Consequences whether culpable or not.
This week it was announced that Diageo, the multinational alcoholic beverages company with Guinness in its stable, has decided to pull their sponsorship of London Irish Rugby Club over concerns regarding the signing of out-half Paddy Jackson. Diageo has a 30-year plus association with the club.
Jackson, now 27, was accused of rape and acquitted of the charge after a nine-week trial in Belfast last year, but the drinks company said the signing is "not consistent" with the company's values. Cash Converters, another sponsor, terminated its relationship with the rugby club in recent weeks, citing holding the "highest possible standards when it comes to investments" as their reasoning, and Paddy Whiskey is 'reviewing their partnership' with the team also.
The news, much like the Ulster rape trial itself did, has divided the nation - some calling Diageo’s decision a 'witch-hunt', others as 'just desserts'. Since his not guilty verdict, Jackson has apologised "unreservedly" for engaging in the "degrading and offensive" Whatsapp conversations about the incident, has gotten back with his former longtime girlfriend and has been playing his rugby with the French side, Perpignan. His contract with the IRFU is still currently cancelled and one would assume that he never really escapes the rumours or whispers.
But enough about him and his 'persecution'... Jackson’s had our focus for long enough, warranted or otherwise. Today, this conversation is about so much more than just him. Twitter is awash with statements praising Diageo for 'doing the right thing' and conversely, slating their stand as little more than an altruistic PR-stunt – 'pandering to those who refuse to accept the court of law’s decision.' Some tweets defend Diageo for sending a strong message that certain behaviours are beyond reprieve, while others, loaded with cynicism, point out the irony of a drinks brand acting as both judge and jury when the rape case itself was so mired in intoxication.
Guilty By Association
Companies of Diageo's scale spend millions of euro a year building up a moralistic public perception and have whole marketing teams dedicated to maintaining their outward wokeness, but when they’re under the cosh, do they stick to their guns?
In this case, it seems so. And whether or not, it holds water in terms of their overall brand strategy, it feels like a decision made with the community in mind - made with women in mind.
And, no, a drinks brand is neither judge nor jury, but this time around they are making a stand in line with what a lot of people think - yes, it's the very essence of marketing, but in this instance, there is a resonance beyond that. They are reiterating the fact that you cannot be a revered public figure and talk about and treat women the way Jackson did and expect people will forget about it.
But it feels remiss to talk about the Ulster rape case and not mention the woman at the heart of it all. Despite the headlines, she’s not a secondary element in this story and I can’t imagine how painful the seemingly endless rhetoric surrounding the incident must be for her, and all women, who experience rape, intimidation or reductive treatment from men.
The legal system may not always achieve what the people see as justice, and that, unfortunately, is the way of the world, but hopefully, this news will come as a somewhat-welcome reminder that the world (and brands) are standing in support.
We send our love to anyone who's feeling the pain of this all over again. Irish Tatler x
If you or someone you know has been affected by today's news and the resurfacing of this case, or need support and information related to rape and sexual violence, contact the Rape Crisis Centre's National 24-Hour Helpline: 1 800 77 8888