The Independent Judicial Officer hearing the Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu misconduct case has upheld the charges against the player at a hearing in Auckland, New Zealand, today.
His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett (England) heard detailed evidence from the Player and his representatives regarding alleged breaches of the RWC 2011 Tournament Disciplinary Programme and the RWC/IRB Code of Conduct relating to comments made about referee Nigel Owens via the public social media network Twitter.
Having considered all the evidence the Judicial Officer determined that the charges laid by Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) in respect of misconduct by the Player for adverse comments against referee Nigel Owens were upheld. All of the charges relating to breaches of the RWC/IRB Code of Conduct arising from such comments were also all upheld.
The Judicial Officer determined that the comments about referee Owens made by Mr Fuimaono Sapolu impugn his integrity and reputation both as a referee and as a man. The Judicial Officer recognised that the Player might have been angry or emotional when making his initial comments via Twitter, however it did not justify his offensive behaviour towards the referee.
Contrary to the Player’s submissions, the Judicial Officer determined that there was ‘absolutely no evidence that the referee was biased in the sense that he deliberately favoured one side or the other. To suggest that Nigel Owens is racist against Samoans is also completely inappropriate.’
The Judicial Officer imposed a suspension from playing for six months, but suspended such sanction (for a period of two years) subject to compliance with the following conditions:
a) A full and unconditional apology to Nigel Owens and unconditional retraction of any criticism of him b) A minimum of 100 hours Rugby community work in Samoa in support of the IRB High Performance Programme within the next 12 months and; c) That the Player attends and passes a recognised Referee course within the next three months
If the Player fails to comply with any of the above conditions or makes any public criticism which results in a proven misconduct offence regarding a match official, the IRB or the disciplinary process, the six-month playing suspension will be activated immediately.
The Player has a right of Appeal within 36 hours of notification of the written decision.