In the end there are no winners, just losers but if any good is to come from the trial of two rugby players accused and subsequently cleared of rape, Brian O’Driscoll hopes it will lead to educating players about consent.
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were accused of the rape of a woman at a party in Jackson’s home in June 2016. Both men were found not guilty after a lengthy trial in Belfast.
Their actions were found not to have broken any laws by the jury, but the attitudes displayed towards women in Whatsapp messages submitted as evidence cost the pair their contracts.
The IRFU and Ulster cited their need to remain committed to their core values of respect, inclusivity and integrity.
In the midst of the review sponsors piled on the pressure by noting their concern about the “serious behaviour and conduct issues” raised during the trial.
The former Ireland captain admits the IRFU probably didn't have many options when it involved coming to a resolution that would keep all parties happy: “I think from the IRFU’s perspective they were left with no option but to sever ties with Stuart and Paddy.
“You can probably only speculate whether it is based on moral or commercial grounds, I’d imagine probably a bit of both, but there is no doubt which is well documented in the papers at the weekend, there was pressure from sponsors.
“I think that was probably fueled by public concern and unease about what their potential future might be, I think it went hand in hand.”
Some Ulster fans have expressed unhappiness with the axing of Jackson and Olding, reports suggest they are considering protests at Ulster's next game.
O’Driscoll feels that the IRFU’s decision might be the least disruptive in the long run:
“We got a taste of it in the Kingspan Stadium and had the decision been different you probably would’ve seen more of that, I think the IRFU moved swiftly to try and end the situation and end the slur on the reputation of the game that has been in Ireland over the course of the last few months as this case has been ongoing.”
O’Driscoll spoke of the negative toll the trial process took an all parties involved, he hopes if one positive is to come from the situation it will be highlighting of issues surrounding young men’s understanding of consent and the eradication of any lingering undercurrents of misogyny in rugby:
“It’s probably not just professional players, it’s players in Ireland of any age, understanding their responsibility to the game goes beyond what happens on the pitch.
“Out of these cases so little positivity comes from them, everyone loses but what has been well documented, Richie Sadlier wrote a really good article highlighting the whole area of consent.
“The need to educate young men in particular about what consent is and in all negative situations you have to try and draw some positive and I think that is highlighting that (consent issue) and any misogynistic undercurrents that might exist within the game and stamp that out, for the better the world has changed dramatically in the last six months and rugby is no different they have to have a good look at themselves and change with the times.”