Even though Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were ultimately cleared of all charges at the recent rape trial, there was a sense of inevitability about Saturday’s announcement that their Ulster and Ireland playing contracts had been cancelled.
When the lewd exchange of WhatsApp messages between the defendants was splashed across newspapers and social media at the beginning of the trial, it was clear that even if Jackson and Olding were to be acquitted of rape, it would not automatically mean their slate would be wiped clean with brand-conscious employers.
Not everyone will agree with Saturday’s announcement that leaves both players’ rugby futures in possible jeopardy. After all, the pair have committed no crime, have now apologised for their conduct on the night in question and talking to spectators at the Kingspan Stadium before Friday night’s Ulster game, a sizeable lobby wanted the players reinstated immediately.
But Ulster Rugby and the IRFU will have been looking at the total picture and winning matches is probably irrelevant if your brand is regarded as toxic. All the indications are that rugby’s biggest sponsors here, including Bank of Ireland, would have withdrawn their huge financial backing had Jackson and Olding been welcomed back to the fold and that, above all, would have influenced rugby’s decision-makers.
This shouldn’t be the end for Jackson and Olding in professional rugby. Deep down, they must have feared that they would have to continue their rugby careers outside Ulster.
Clubs elsewhere in the British Isles, or in France, will probably be willing to give them a second chance. The UK options may not be straightforward though when you consider the example of the footballer Ched Evans whose conviction for rape was eventually overturned. Several clubs who wanted to sign the forward pulled out amidst a tide of public opinion. France may yet be Jackson and Olding’s best option. They deserve the chance to make amends for their mistakes.