IRB rejects Samoan twit's appeal

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 00:00
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Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu on Saturday lost his appeal against a six-month suspended sentence imposed after an angry Twitter rant during the World Cup.

Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu on Saturday lost his appeal against a six-month suspended sentence imposed after an angry Twitter rant during the World Cup.

The 31-year-old Gloucester player had been punished by the International Rugby Board for accusing Welsh referee Nigel Owens of bias and racism after Samoa's 5-13 loss to South Africa on September 30.

He was also ordered to offer a full apology to Owens and perform a minimum of 100 hours' rugby community work in Samoa within the next 12 months.

Fuimaono-Sapolu's ban could now become active after he was found guilty of misconduct by England's Rugby Football Union earlier this month for a Twitter outburst against Saracens' Owen Farrell.

An IRB statement said it noted the misconduct decision of the RFU and would give it "consideration" in light of the appeal committee's findings.

The IRB said the Samoa player's appeal was against the decision handed down by the judicial officer Jeff Blackett (England) on October 15 in Auckland - which upheld a misconduct charge by Rugby World Cup Limited against Fuimaono Sapolu for comments made about referee Nigel Owens via the public social media network Twitter.

The charges related to breaches of the RWC/IRB Code of Conduct arising from such comments were also all upheld.

At the initial hearing in Auckland, Fuimaono Sapolu was given the sanction of a suspension from playing for six months (suspended for a period of two years) subject to compliance with the following conditions:
* A full and unconditional apology to Nigel Owens and unconditional retraction of any criticism of him
* A minimum of 100 hours Rugby community work in Samoa in support of the IRB High Performance Programme within the next 12 months
* That the Player attends and passes a recognised Referee course within three months

The Appeal Committee, chaired by Lorne Crerar (Scotland) and consisting of Graeme Mew (Canada) and Nicholas Davidson QC (New Zealand), met in London on November 20 and heard submissions from the Player, who represented himself, regarding the basis of his appeal.

The Committee reserved its judgement to give all due consideration to all the evidence and submissions made at the hearing.

Having completed the process, the Appeal Committee agreed that abusive comments regarding match officials on Twitter or other social media platforms was unacceptable and should carry a significant sanction in line with the Judicial Officer's Decision.

The initial decision was upheld including the conditions that the suspended sentence will be activated should the player not comply with the sanction conditions.

However, the Appeal Committee did extend the timescale for completing the refereeing course to six months and adjusted the requirement to complete 100 hours community work to take account of the EFS community Rugby project and other ongoing community commitments of the Player in Samoa. The Player's involvement in these projects was not available to the Judicial Officer at the original hearing.

The IRB/Rugby World Cup Limited notes the misconduct decision of the RFU against the player on November 7 and will give it consideration following the Independent Appeal Committee's findings today.

* Following the IRB's decision to refuse Sapolu's appeal Premiership Rugby issued the following statement: "Social networking, including Twitter and Facebook, has grown considerably in the last year and is an important vehicle for improving the rugby experience of supporters through interaction with players, clubs and national teams.

"Consequently the Rugby Players' Association, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union are currently working together to draw up a guidance document for all players, coaches, support staff and club employees to help them use social networking beneficially but responsibly."