Official Ulster supporters' club warns ticket sales may fall if Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are not reinstated
SEASON ticket renewals could drop if Ulster players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are not reinstated in the team, the supporters' club has said.
It comes as thousands of people signed a petition for the players – who were both acquitted of all charges in a rape trial last month – to return to the pitch.
Both Jackson and Olding have not represented Ulster or Ireland since they were charged by the PSNI in July 2017.
Despite being acquitted, the two players remain suspended by Ulster Rugby and the IRFU pending a combined internal review by both organisations.
Their teammate Craig Gilroy was also left out of the squad over the weekend due to an internal review into a lurid WhatsApp message he sent, which was used as evidence during the trial.
A statement released by chairman of the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club (URSC) said many supporters have indicated that if the players are not reinstated for selection, it would strongly influence whether they decide to renew their season ticket.
It also said that they had no part in an advertisement taken out in the 'Belfast Telegraph' last week which called for both players not to be selected for their province or country again.
More than 100 people took out the advertisement which said: "The content of social media exchanges between the pair, who were cleared last week of raping a woman, was reprehensible."
It added that such behaviour "falls far beneath the standards that your organisations represent".
A number of lurid WhatsApp messages were used as evidence during the trial.
Responding to the advertisement taken out in the newspaper last week, chairman for the URSC Jonathan Bill issued a statement on its website saying: "The URSC can confirm that it had no part in this advertisement and doubts that any of the 139 who contributed financially to this advertisement are amongst its membership.
"The URSC can further confirm that it has received no calls from its membership for the aforementioned players to be banned from playing for Ulster.
"On the contrary, the vast majority of members have made it clear they wish to see their early reinstatement to playing duties.
"Indeed many have made it clear that if this is not the case it will strongly influence their decision on season ticket renewal or their future Kingspan attendance.
"URSC is concerned that if such is the case, the numbers involved could impact adversely on support for the team and income for Ulster Rugby through the ticket sales," added the statement.
Meanwhile, a petition created online calling for the players to be reinstated to the Ulster Rugby team has garnered more than 9,000 signatures as of yesterday evening.
The Change.org petition, entitled 'Get Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding back playing for Ulster Rugby' called for Ulster Rugby to show their support for the players, adding they have "not broken any sporting rules and therefore need to be back playing in Ulster shirts as soon as possible".
Queries were put to Ulster Rugby following the statement made by supporters, asking if it would affect the decision-making process during the ongoing internal review.
However, a spokesman said that they would not be commenting while the review is ongoing.
"The IRFU and Ulster Rugby have advised that a review process in relation to this matter is under way and it would be inappropriate to comment on any matter pertaining to that process until it is completed."
Elsewhere, in a poll for RTÉ’s 'Claire Byrne Live' last night, 55pc of respondents said they didn't want to see Jackson and Olding back playing for Ireland, 26pc said they did, while 19pc said they didn't know.