Sunday 21 July 2019

Cian Tracey: 'O'Brien episode does nothing for rugby and its desire to hold itself to high values'


O’Brien: Facing IRFU sanction. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
O’Brien: Facing IRFU sanction. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Given that it is almost exactly a month to the day since the incident in question took place, the assumption was that a forthright statement and maybe even a public apology was on the cards.

Instead, what we got was a short and not-so-sweet four-line statement from the IRFU that smacked of 'case closed, nothing to see here, move on'. Except, this won't be forgotten by the public as quickly as the union and Seán O'Brien would like, simply because of the very nature of the disgusting act.

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"The IRFU have investigated an incident of inappropriate behaviour by a player which occurred on 26th May 2019," the statement read. "The player has expressed his deep regret and has been sanctioned in line with the provisions of his contract.

"The player has apologised to the individual involved. The IRFU, and the player, regret any upset that this incident has caused."

Interestingly, the union declined to name O'Brien or give any detail about the "inappropriate behaviour", which feels like it is somewhat lessening the guilt.

It's impossible to imagine a scenario that anyone, let alone one of the most well-known Irish rugby players, would decide that it would be a good idea to take a leak on another person.

In any other walk of life, this is likely to have been a much bigger issue. Heaven forbid, if it was a footballer who had done the same. What would the reaction be like then?

Rugby likes to hold itself to certain values, yet that has come into question in recent times. As O'Brien is on an IRFU contract, it was the union and not Leinster who conducted the investigation and they found themselves in a tricky position in that the flanker is only contracted to them until November before he moves to London Irish.

Injury means that he will not play at the World Cup and one wonders had he been fit, would the Tullow native have faced any further 'sanctions'.

London Irish are a proud club, but they are assembling a new-look squad with quite a lot of baggage.

Paddy Jackson's signing has already caused the club huge damage in the loss of sponsors, while bringing in not one, but two players who have been rebuked for urinating in public, is certainly not going to have any potential sponsors jumping through hoops to come on board.

Perhaps O'Brien could learn something from the manner in which his soon-to-be new team-mate Nick Phipps went about his business after he decided it was a good idea to relieve himself on a packed bar last year.

The Australian scrum-half didn't shy away and seemed genuinely remorseful when he fronted the media.

"I'm a goose, if I'm going to do the crime, I'll definitely pay the time," Phipps said, after he was handed a $4,000 fine, which went to a local charity that supports rugby communities.

"It's always been in my character to stand up and accept the responsibility. I was a bloody idiot. It's one of those things I wanted to front straight away and get the apology out there and make sure that everyone knows how sorry I am."

The question now is: will O'Brien do the same or will he move to England hoping that his reputation on these shores hasn't been damaged?

As a player, O'Brien is one of the best that Ireland has ever produced, but it is difficult to see how his character hasn't taken a hit by this.

Everyone makes mistakes but, as a role model, certain standards must be met and no one is above the law, no matter their standing in the pantheon of sporting greats.

What example does it set for younger players hoping to follow in his footsteps or even the person with their local club?

The IRFU had a chance to make a real statement here by proving just how unacceptable this behaviour is, because it should not be tolerated in any walk of life. It seems bizarre that any employer would have to make that crystal clear to any of their employees, yet here we are.

All told, it hasn't been a great period for rugby and its image. Earlier this month, Leinster also released a wishy-washy statement in relation to one of their Academy players allegedly being knocked out by a former player, who was then celebrated at an awards ceremony.

If rugby wants to continue to hold itself to high values, then it is about time that its stakeholders stop taking the p**s.

Irish Independent

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