Fuimaono-Sapolu escapes suspension
January 12, 2012
Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has been cleared to continue playing for Gloucester © Getty Images
Gloucester and Samoa centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has escaped further sanction from the International Rugby Board after the organisation deemed his current punishment sufficient.
The IRB was reacting to the three-week ban he received back in November from the Rugby Football Union after the comments he made on Twitter concerning Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell. After the Gloucester centre was hit with the suspension, the IRB confirmed that they would investigate whether the Samoan had violated the original terms of the penalty they handed to him during the World Cup.
Fuimaono-Sapolu was given a six-month ban, suspended for two years, following his criticism of referee Nigel Owens and the IRB via Twitter during the World Cup. His suspension was subject to three conditions - along with him refraining from criticising a match official, the IRB or the disciplinary process over Twitter in the future.
The conditions were that he gave a full and unconditional apology to Owens and unconditional retraction of any criticism of him; carry out a minimum of 100 hours' rugby community work in Samoa in support of the International Rugby Board (IRB) high performance programme within the next 12 months; and that the player attends and passes a recognised referee course within three months.
And as a result of their investigation, the IRB has confirmed that they will not enforce the suspended sentence but Judge Jeff Blackett, who was appointed to Fuimaono-Sapolu's hearing, has extended the previously suspended ban of six months to nine. The Samoan centre is therefore cleared to play for Gloucester, but Blackett has warned him over his future conduct.
The IRB statement read: "Taking into account all the evidence, including the player's subsequent restraint since the RFU hearing and his expressed genuine desire to put the episode behind him, Judge Blackett decided to retain the suspended sentence so there were no immediate playing consequences to the player but he took the opportunity to underscore to Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu the gravity of his actions and to vary the terms of the original suspension by extending the length of the suspension from six to nine months and extending the period of the suspension from two to three years."
And Blackett emphasised that this is Fuimaono-Sapolu's "last chance".
"The player must realise that he has been treated exceptionally leniently," Blackett said. "This really is his last chance and I give him a warning in the strongest possible terms that he must comply with the terms of the decision or this suspension will be activated in addition to any other sanction applied for any further offence.
"It is important that the integrity of the disciplinary process is upheld, but it is also important that it is not seen to be oppressive. Therefore, and given his apparently genuine submission that he is "over the entire twitter saga", I am prepared to deal with this breach of the condition in such a way as to give the player one last chance.
"In doing so I make it clear that this really is his last chance."
A full account of the IRB's verdict can be found here.
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