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Rugby president: the truth about the ban

UEA’s RFC president Andy Driver makes a statement on the ban of the club and responds to readers’ questions.

After reading many articles in the media, and the comments which have accompanied them, I have taken this time to write this piece outlining the details of the case as seen from my perspective. It has come to my attention that the Union Committee will be speaking to the press very soon and I want to get the facts out before they have a chance to be re-worded and interpreted by the UUEAS spokesperson. Here I will provide details of the case that previously may not have had the chance to be known by the wider audience, I will try to clear up anything which seems to have been confusing/unclear, and I will show UEA RFC’s perspective on the matter.

What was the actual incident? What actually happened?

On the 14th March 2012 our 2nd XV were playing an away BUCS match and were sharing a coach with UEA Women’s Hockey. Unfortunately due to people having deadlines/injuries etc. there was no UEARFC committee member on the bus however there was sufficient senior members aboard. It was decided by the players on that day that the fancy dress theme for the ride home was going to be “bad taste”. In hindsight we can now see that this was a mistake however it was definitely not meant offend anybody and was meant to just be for the enjoyment of the rugby players. However contrary to popular belief I can tell you that there wasn’t anybody dressed on that bus as a nazi, I’m unsure of where this idea derived from but I can tell you that this was not the case.

During the ride home there was a song sung entitled “10 German Bombers”, one which is commonplace at a variety of festivals including sporting events such as in football stadiums. Initially the boys singing it were unaware that there was a German hockey girl on the bus, however she did take offence to it and became upset. Once this information arose a couple of individuals continued to sing although the girl was upset, however were soon told to “sit down and shut up” by the more senior members on the bus. There was also an individual who was naked on the bus which is something which the bus driver had noticed and was not pleased about.  Upon arriving back at UEA the senior members of the team apologised emphatically to the hockey girls and also ensured that the bus was left clean, picking up any rubbish which was on the bus.

How did the ban come about? What was the process?

The next morning, as president of the club I was called into an emergency meeting  with Rob Bloomer amongst others. Here he outlay what had happened on the bus and that they had received complaints from both the hockey club and the bus driver. He also decided to present me with a list of other incidents which had happened throughout the year, incidents conducted by individuals who happened to be members of the club, however this was the first time I was hearing about said incidents as they had not been acknowledged before. I was not allowed to see the statements made in the complaints against us and obviously was unsure as to what had actually happened because I was not on the bus. When asked if I knew any individuals who might be responsible then I said that because I wasn’t there I obviously didn’t know but I said that I could quite easily find out if they give me a couple days. Rob Bloomer also informed me that the decision on a punishment would be brought up at Union Council that night (March 15th).

Upon leaving the meeting we decided that our first course of action would be to send a letter of apology to the Women’s Hockey Club, something which was delegated to and carried out by our 2nd XV captain. It was then later in that night at the union council that the ban was decided to be imposed, the information was subsequently reported online and was freely available for anybody to read. This was all before anybody from UUEAS had contacted me and informed me of the decision, my first correspondence concerning this was an email sent at 11.34am the following day (16th March) outlining the ban and our right to appeal.

The initial appeal

We had one week from the decision being made to submit an appeal to the union. This was apparently the process and procedures of an appeal, although we later found that this was not the case. Within our extensive appeal document we outlined how deeply sorry we were that this case has come about and provided the investigation that the union had not decided to undertake. For each incident we provided explanations of what happened, backed up by witness statements from people who were there, and highlighted the names of the individuals who were at blame. We accompanied this with statements from other UEA societies whom which we have had joint socials with (Men’s football, Cheerleading, Dance) who vouched that they had not experienced any problems with us and had a positive experience. We also attached statements from the door staff who work in the bars and clubs who also vouched that although we had problems with some individuals that we had overall improved with our behaviour as a club. We also pointed out the severity of the ban, in that it would not be punishing the people who are to blame but rather will be punishing many students present and future who enjoy playing rugby and finally we emphasised how much were would want to work with the UUEAS and not against them, providing ideas we had to help improve the club such as a revised code of conduct and new disciplinary procedures.

Alongside our appeal document we also submitted a formal complaint about the union and the way we have been treated. We complained that it was not fair that we were being branded as sexist and racist club and that it was tarnishing the reputation of the club and of individuals without any investigation.

Once submitted a meeting was set up for our appeal to be heard by the union. Due to union committee members having a vested interest in the matter a sub-committee was set up for the hearing. It was not until this day that it was made aware to us that infact there was no procedure for appeals which existed, and that meant that our appeal would be handled by the procedures for complaints made. This was our first inclination that the union really were inexperienced in matters such as this.

At the hearing it soon became apparent top us that the officers present were not properly informed of the complaints against us or the details of our appeal document. This was evident due to the fact that they forgot what questions they wanted to ask us, got the details of the incidents wrong and at no point asked us to elaborate on any points; rather asking for a ‘brief summary’ of the appeal document.

Once we left the meeting it was then decided by this sub-committee that no new evidence provided would change the outcome and that the ban still stood.

The next stage of the appeal

Once I was emailed informing me of the sub-committee’s decision we were once again offered to appeal (via the complaints procedures) onto the next stage of the process which doesn’t exist; to the Union Council. Our next appeal was constructed in a different direction, after realising that providing details and even names of the people responsible for the complaints was dismissed by the union as being too subjective, we decided that possibly a more objective approach was needed. Our appeal included complaints about the unprofessional manner of the officers, as well as asking them to re-assess the investigative evidence which we had previously supplied as we believe this had not been seen properly before. Furthermore we aired our grievances surrounding the procedures carried out, including the fact there is no appeal process that exists although they invite us to submit one, and we called into question the validity of the officers to make a decision as important as this; due to them not being properly qualified for the job, and that they only have their job down to a vote which was made by merely a tenth of the student body, less than the Concrete Sex Survey!

We also divulged further into some more objective and legal issues which surround the case. We found and proved that the ban is in contrast with not only the constitution of UEA but also the Education Act of 1994. The only section of the constitution which highlights disciplinary procedures details that it is the Board of Trustees who have the power to discipline a member. And no point is there any mention of the Union Management Committee  having any powers to discipline (those are reserved for the trustee board), and at no point is any mention of any disciplinary procedures being undertook against a group of members, rather it highlights that it is only possible for the trustee board to disciple a member (not plural).  The Education Act (1994) also states that a Student Union is not allowed to stop a group of students from participating in a sport, they may withdraw funding etc. but to stop them altogether is illegal.

Following the initial appeal the union also highlighted how they are taking the history of the club into consideration when applying the ban; namely our previous punishment from 2011 where damaged was caused at a hotel. After reviewing the minutes of the union council meeting regarding this incident (March 2011) it was found that the union acknowledged that their complaint and disciplinary procedures were insufficient. This was over a year ago! They also decided in that meeting that issues such as this (us causing damage at a hotel) would probably not occur had the union properly administered a code of conduct, something which was delegated to Rob Bloomer to construct. Now over a year on and nothing has changed, I ask that if they are taking the actions of the rugby club into consideration then they must take the actions of the union as well.

When we arrived at the hearing of the union council to present our appeal, we were once again not told of the procedures for the meeting until the start of it. We had planned a presentation which now had to be changed last minute because we were not previously told of the structure of the meeting. Furthermore those who were arguing their point against the overturn of the ban (namely Rob Bloomer and Mathew Myles) also were provided with the majority of the content which I was presenting before the meeting, meaning they had plenty of time to structure an argument against this. However it was obviously not the same vice-versa, new information was being brought up such as their offer of an intramural rugby tournament to compensate, something which I had not heard of previously.

Subsequently the union council voted to uphold the ban regardless of my pleas to look at a different, more constructive punishment. They even insisted that the rugby club were not sorry for what has happened and simply viewed the whole thing as ‘banter’. They argued that although we found these flaws in their process, that the process did not matter. I feel that we have now approached this appeal in 2 directions; one focusing on the actual complaints and trying to provide evidence for what happened, and the other on the processes and procedures for which UUEAS have acted upon which are clearly insufficient.

I am hoping that this piece has cleared up anything which may have not been clear to people, and now everybody can see the actual details of the case. I thank all the people for their support online and we will be continuing to appeal, the next stage being to the dean of students. One last point to summarise on is that; (1) we are deeply sorry for the behaviour and do not and have never condoned any sort of racist or sexist behaviour, (2) we have named the individuals to the union and we feel it is them who should be punished, we do not feel the whole club is to blame, (3) we feel that the union councillors are not in a position to make this decision, and (4) we want to work together with the university to change this culture which surrounds rugby on a global level and improve our practices, something which UUEAS seems to not want to do.

25/04/2012

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chrisking