Leading article

Rugby players' behaviour fell well short of standards expected

Although some fans may have felt Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding could have played for Ulster and Ireland after being acquitted of rape, the sordid details of this case made such a return virtually impossible.

Both men are top flight players, they have had the honour of representing their province and country, been held up as role models for schoolchildren, revered by supporters and well rewarded for their talent and skill.

But they must also realise that such a privileged position comes with responsibilities and while it is fully recognised that they have been cleared of all charges, there is a world beyond the courtroom that viewed their conduct and explicit comments as falling well short of the standards expected of professional sportsmen.

They have both expressed their regrets following the case while Paddy Jackson said public criticism of his behaviour was 'fully justified.'

But their apologies have not been enough to save their careers at Ulster Rugby which issued a joint statement with the Irish Rugby Football Union at the weekend announcing their contracts had been revoked.

In coming to this decision, both bodies acknowledged their responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game - respect, inclusivity and integrity.

Given these values, it is difficult to see how the two men could have continued as players.

Although the head of Ulster Rugby, Shane Logan, has denied their decision was driven by sponsors, the financial implications of this case must surely have been considered along with other factors.

As for the rugby authorities, the fact that there will now be a review within the game in Ireland to ensure core values are understood, supported and practised at every level, must be regarded as a welcome first step.

However, they should also review how this entire matter has been handled in terms of communicating with fans and the wider public.

The behaviour exposed during this case raises broader questions about attitudes in rugby which the game's leadership must be prepared to be discuss in an open way.

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