Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu’s appeal against the misconduct decision for comments made via social media has been refused by the Independent Appeal Committee hearing his case.
The Samoa player’s appeal was against the decision handed down by the Independent Judicial Officer His Honour Judge 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. Charges relating 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.