A storm is brewing around London Irish Rugby Clubs signing of Paddy Jackson with club sponsors of nearly 30 years Diageo calling a meeting with the club this week.
A statement from Diageo said that “We are meeting the club this week to discuss our serious concerns regarding their decision, which is not consistent with our values.”
Jackson and his colleague Stuart Olding were cleared of accusations of rape at a very high profile trial in Belfast through the first few months of 2018.
They had their contracts terminated by the IRFU and Ulster Rugby based on some of the evidence of Whats App messages and behaviour which they admitted had fallen short of the standards expected of them.
Both players moved to France to revive their careers and Jackson took a step closer to home with the announcement that he would be joining London Irish from next season. The club was promoted back to the Gallagher premiership at the end of the current season. They have also signed Sean O’Brien from Leinster.
There are those within sport who feel that a sponsor has no place exerting influence over the performance or behaviour of players at teams it is involved with. The argument is that they have to take the rough with the smooth, but this is patently nonsense.
Sponsors are acutely aware of the need to step carefully in situations where moral values are in the spotlight but they absolutely have a right to express their view when something is done that questions their own sense of mission, values and public perception.
The same issues arose for Bank of Ireland last year with Ulster Rugby and they were once again perfectly entitled to express their view.
It is not as some suggest a case that if they were proven innocent they should be allowed to get on with their lives. That is, of course, true in terms of them as individuals and is based on natural justice but the decision on whether a brand chooses to retain an alignment with those individuals is down to them.
Sponsorship contracts now have standard behaviour and reputation clauses which are never willingly invoked but they are there for a reason.
The meeting this week is not necessarily to end a long term partnership but at a minimum, there will be strong words spoken about communication, reputation and behaviour.
The end result of how that plays out will be deccided behind closed doors and perhaps by way of a short statement.
We will wait and see.