Statement from the RFU Disciplinary Officer His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett
Investigation into allegations of misconduct by Alan Black during London Wasps v Clermont Auvergne on 15 December, 2007
Approximately 18 minutes into the second half there was an altercation on the pitch between players from both sides which spilled over the touchline towards the crowd. During the altercation one of the Clermont Auvergne players appeared to punch a Wasps player several times. That incident is being reviewed separately by the ERC Citing Commissioner who has sole jurisdiction to decide whether it should be considered by a Disciplinary Panel. Mr Alan Black was in the crowd near to the incident and, while it was taking place, he leant across the barrier separating the spectators from the pitch and struck out two or three times with a rolled up match programme. He appeared to miss the French player but struck a glancing blow to the side of the head of one of the Wasps' players. Members of the Wasps security staff were in the immediate vicinity but they did not have to intervene because the brawl on the pitch subsided and Black moved away from it. Before he moved away there was a verbal exchange and finger pointing between some French players and Black immediately afterwards. After a short period Black was ejected from the ground. The incident was filmed and repeated on air a number of times and it has attracted significant media attention.
Black is a former Wasps player and is currently a member of the Club. He is also employed by the RFU as the Leisure Rugby Manager. As a result the RFU has had to consider not only whether he should be subject to the RFU disciplinary process but also whether he should be disciplined as an employee of the Union. In that latter regard he has been interviewed by Francis Baron OBE, the RFU Chief Executive, and given an appropriate employment sanction in accordance with the RFU Staff Code of Conduct but will remain in the employ of the RFU as its Leisure Rugby Manager.
Alan Black's statement
Black stated that the altercation started on the pitch and ended up very close to where he was standing. He observed what he believed to be a violent attack on one of the Wasps players and reacted instinctively. The whole incident was over in a few seconds. He said he hit out with his programme and then moved back because he knew he should not have become involved. He had only drunk one pint of beer before the match, so he was not fuelled by alcohol, but he could not explain his reaction any further.
The following day he issued an apology to all in rugby and he has since stated that he feels very ashamed of his actions, particularly as he has spent so much of his life instilling rugby values into others.
Alan Black is well known and respected in rugby circles and I have had a large number of supportive letters and e mails over the past 24 hours from former colleagues, people he coached and assisted, current players and a member of the press. He himself has suggested that he accepts in advance any sanction which is considered appropriate as the image of the Game is paramount.
The Game of Rugby Football Union prides itself for ensuring that its highly physical nature remains on the pitch. Rival spectators support their teams passionately but with respect for the opposition, and crowd violence has never been a concern. Any physical assault by a spectator on another spectator or a player or official will be dealt with severely to ensure the image of the Game is not tarnished and to deter other similar incidents in the future.
Black's involvement in the altercation on the pitch amounts to serious misconduct which merits a significant sanction. However, there are a number of compelling mitigating factors in this case. First, Black reacted instinctively when a fight erupted very close to him and he perceived that one of the Wasps players was being attacked and was at risk of serious injury. Second, his reaction was not particularly violent. He used a rolled up match programme which could not have inflicted any injury even if he had made contact with the intended target. Third, he knew immediately that he had acted inappropriately and has since shown genuine remorse - he issued a public apology and has indicated that in his view he merits a substantial sanction. Fourth, he is a man not of just good character but of exceptional rugby credentials having assisted many people over 40 years associated with the Game. The number and type of unsolicited testimonials I have received is unprecedented and shows the enormous respect and affection in which he is held. Finally, he has received an appropriate employment sanction.
Normally an offence such as this would attract a long period of suspension from attending a ground where elite rugby is played. I have to balance the seriousness of this offending against the enormous amount of personal mitigation in this case.
In all the circumstances, therefore, I severely reprimand Alan Black and order that he may not attend any match involving a Guinness Premiership team in any competition, or England when they play at home, for the rest of season 2007/08. For the avoidance of doubt this suspension is from today until and including 1st June 2008.