Breaking Down the Jackson Olding Ruling

It was a little over 100 words when it came at 11 AM on Saturday morning but the importance of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby statement on the future of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding cannot be overstated.

It was delivered in three paragraphs each one of which is important in its own right and deserves scrutiny.

The Decision

“Following a review, conducted in the aftermath of recent court proceedings, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have revoked the contracts of Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding with immediate effect.”

That was the news which draws a line under the conflicting arguments and statements issued by fans of the players, supporters of the sport and wider society in the weeks since the players were found not guilty on charges in a Belfast Court but could not get away from the behaviour they had displayed on that fateful night and in subsequent conversations on social media.

The media focus, and that of the players and their agents, now switches to where they might play in Europe or around the world.  There is talk this morning of Clermont Auvergne in France or less likely London Irish in the English game.

Both Jackson and Olding are highly regarded players who would add to the strength of whatever team they join though fans and stakeholders will not be blind to the baggage that comes with them and neither will they be cheap.

The Reasoning

“In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game – respect, inclusivity and integrity.”

This was never about guilt or innocence, it was never a cut and dried case of hard fact.  It was always about values, a concept which Rugby has always held dear and delivered on at almost every level.

Much has been made of sponsors activism and the role of money, often with a measure of disdain, but that belies the fact that sponsors were merely reflecting the popular mood that the behaviour of the players had fallen a long way short of what we expect in general at any level but especially in an area where sporting stars are seen as role models for society.

They made their views known in measured and composed fashion, more so than others it has to be said, and that was an important contributing factor to the decision but not on the basis of money and more just as an amplification of what was said, thought and felt among the rugby and the wider general public.

The Future

“It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game.”

Perhaps the most important long-term element of this will be how it changes behaviour and understanding responsibility among those next generations of players and fans.

We have heard throughout that this was not a problem of rugby alone, that there were deeper societal factors involving misogyny, respect, pornography, and much more.

But if rugby and sport can sidestep responsibility for creating these issues they can take a big step forward in helping to change them.

Behaviour is driven by culture and culture is driven by people creating the right environment in which better behaviour is the norm as well as the stated aspiration.

Knowing the core values of respect and being better as humans is not difficult on paper or to be painted on walls.  The real work is in making it real and making it clearly understood as a better way among the wider population.

We create the society in which we live.  Our role is not a passive one.  There is an opportunity now for some good to emerge from this sorry period and for that good to make a repeat less likely in the first instance and deemed to be wholly unacceptable by all in the longer term.

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