Pro14 side Ulster and Ireland int'l rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been sacked, according to Peter O'Reilly of the LONDON TIMES. The players were cleared of rape last month after a nine-week trial but in a joint statement on Friday, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster said that their contracts had been revoked with "immediate effect." Although they were cleared, there was "controversy over social media and text messages they had exchanged." In coming to their decision, the players' employers were underlining their commitment to "the core values of the game: Respect, Inclusivity and Integrity." The companies sponsoring Ulster and Ireland "were always going to be the key decision-makers and demand that the players be removed, in order to distance their brands from this ugly, prolonged story." There is reason to believe that sponsors such as Vodafone and Bank of Ireland "forced the issue." Nine days after his acquittal, Jackson released a statement expressing contrition that "a visitor to my home" -- the complainant -- "had left in a distressed state." But this was "perceived by many as a case of too little, too late." Though they are both young -- Jackson is 26, Olding 25 -- this "effectively spells the end of two very promising international careers." Now the question is where they can find gainful employment in the club game. They have been linked with Premiership Rugby clubs -- Jackson with Exeter, Olding with Worcester -- but club chairs have privately "voiced concerns about the toxicity this story has generated." That toxicity is "unlikely to spread so liberally in France" and it is understood that Top14 club Clermont Auvergne has shown interest in Jackson, who said that he was "deeply disappointed" by the IRFU's decision but also that he was "truly sorry" for his behavior (LONDON TIMES, 4/14). In London, Ben Rumsby reported campaigners against sexual violence "applauded the sackings" amid the "acrimonious fallout" to the players' rape trial. The Belfast Feminist Network, which mounted a demonstration on Friday outside of Ulster's stadium ahead of its first home game since the trial, said, "We are pleased to hear that those players who have exposed themselves as misogynistic will no longer be representing Ulster Rugby. ... Ulster Rugby has work to do if it wants to convince us that they will take action against sexism and ensure things like this do not happen again. We look forward to hearing how they intend to do this." Stadium sponsor Kingspan was also said to have "expressed reservations." The sackings followed "huge demonstrations" in Belfast, Londonderry, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Dublin and London in response to the not guilty verdict. Those wanting Jackson and Olding to be sacked also took out a full-page ad in the Belfast Telegraph last week (TELEGRAPH, 4/14).
RUGBY REVIEW: Also in London, McDonald & Greenfield reported the unions announced an in-depth review of Irish rugby, which has been "widely criticised" by campaigners for what they call a "prevailing culture of misogyny." Another player, Craig Gilroy, was also sanctioned by the unions over a text message he sent, and has been suspended until April 26 (GUARDIAN, 4/14).
Formula 1 is "in talks with potential Chinese partners to set up a new local venture," which would "help it push deeper into the huge but still nascent China market," according to Li & Baldwin of REUTERS. Sources said that Liberty Media spoke with Chinese firms including Inter Milan owner Suning and La Liga rights holder DDMC to "form a joint venture that would help manage business development in China." A third person said that the search for a local Chinese partner "was in the advanced stages," but did not name any of the partners. A fourth person confirmed the talks over a China joint venture but said that "nothing has been finalised." An F1 spokesperson confirmed the search for a local partner "but gave no further details." F1 has held a grand prix in Shanghai since '04. There has been talk about China "having two rounds of the championship in the future." The sport announced in '17 it was "teaming up" with marketing agency Lagardère Sports to "build strategic partnerships in China from this year." DDMC did not reply to a request for comment. Suning declined to comment (REUTERS, 4/13). MOTORSPORT WEEK's Graham Harris reported F1 "widened its broadcast reach in China" in time for this past weekend's grand prix in Shanghai through three new TV rights deals. Chinese internet company Tencent became a new digital media partner in the Chinese market. The partnership will "enable Chinese fans to follow the races live on PC and mobile platforms." In addition to the Tencent deal, F1 also signed agreements with local regional broadcasters Guangdong TV and Shanghai TV. Guangdong TV will provide free-to-air coverage in the Cantonese language and Shanghai TV will offer additional exposure in the region (MOTORSPORT WEEK, 4/13).
MAY DEADLINE: REUTERS' Abhishek Takle reported Liberty Media wants a decision on post-'20 engine regulations to be decided by the end of May, Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. Liberty made a presentation to the teams and FIA in Bahrain last week. Arrivabene: "They give us a deadline for the end of May, I think. I hope that this deadline is going to be respected. It's a bit early somehow, but it's far ... from another point of view, a technical point of view, concerning the engine" (REUTERS, 4/13).
'FUEL SAVING': GMM reported F1 "may be on the cusp" of ending the era of "fuel saving." In the hybrid era, the sport has gotten used to drivers using the "lift and coast" tactic to get their limited fuel load to the checkered flag. But Auto Motor und Sport reported at the forthcoming strategy group meeting on April 17, a proposal to "scrap the fuel limit altogether will be discussed." At the "very least, an increase in the fuel limit may be on the cards" (GMM, 4/14).
It would not "be the start of the county season without a controversy about players missing" because of the Indian Premier League, according to Elizabeth Ammon of the LONDON TIMES. There are 12 players absent from the first round "because they are playing in India and while counties are resigned to this," they have written to the England & Wales Cricket Board to ensure that compensation payments paid by the BCCI "are given back to the counties rather than staying with the ECB." Twenty percent of a player’s IPL contract is paid to the ECB but, "at the moment, that money is not passed back to the counties." Under proposals from domestic chairs, counties would receive the full 20% compensation for non-England players, 15% for England players on "white-ball contracts" and 10% for those on "full England central contracts." Counties and players have suggested to the ECB that the payment system "should be the same for all players -- something that has received the backing" of the Professional Cricketers' Association (LONDON TIMES, 4/13).
UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Ammon also reported "uncertainty over the ECB’s new T20 competition" means that an "increasing number of counties are unwilling to negotiate new contracts" for their players that go beyond '19. Several counties "may even pay players -- who in recent years have enjoyed lucrative year-round contracts -- on freelance deals" from '20 onward if they are going to be absent from county duty for "large chunks of the season to play in both the IPL and the city T20 tournament," which is proposed to start in the summer of '20 (LONDON TIMES, 4/14).
Australian Rugby League Commission Chair Peter Beattie does not "share Israel Folau’s views but he has defended the player’s democratic right to express them" and endorsed National Rugby League clubs' pursuit of the player. As many as six NRL clubs "are believed to be monitoring the situation" and if one of them decides to pursue Folau, it will do so "with the backing of Beattie" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 4/16).
The Korea Baseball Organization said that its 10 clubs have drawn 1,049,803 fans through 92 games as of Sunday, "with an average of 11,411 fans per game." The total number represents a 4% increase after the same number of games in '17. The KBO said that 10 out of the first 92 games this year have sold out, compared to just three after 92 games last year (YONHAP, 4/15).
FIA installed "in-garage cameras to monitor Formula E car swaps after the controversy that followed its decision to remove the series’ minimum pitstop time." The governing body "clarified what was permitted during the car swap procedure at the Punta del Este round last month following a request from the teams" (MOTORSPORT, 4/13).
Yorkshire County Cricket Club CEO Mark Arthur "insisted there are no problems with Headingley's drainage" after a third straight day of the match against Essex "was called off." Arthur said that "unprecedented wet weather in Leeds and low temperatures meant the ground could not recover in time" (BBC, 4/15).