Israel Folau to contest his $4m contract termination
He said in a social media post that hell awaits ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars . . . ’
Wallabies rugby player Israel Folau has notified Rugby Australia of his intention to contest a “high level” code of conduct breach notice, with the matter set to head to a tribunal hearing.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Rugby Australia confirmed the player had made formal contact and confirmed his intention to contest the matter.
“Israel Folau has today responded to a breach notice issued to him by Rugby Australia on Monday in relation to his social media posts on April 10th,” the statement read.
“Folau has requested the matter be referred to a Code of Conduct hearing.
“Rugby Australia will now make arrangements with the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) to bring together the Code of Conduct hearing.”
The chief executive of Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle, described it as “not an unexpected outcome”.
“We will now work to confirm a date for the hearing as soon as possible”, Castle said.
“After the date for the hearing is confirmed Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union will make no further comment on the matter until the Code of Conduct process has concluded.”
Last Thursday, Rugby Australia said it would sack the Wallabies superstar after a social media post in which he said hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”.
The governing body has said Folau committed a “high level” breach of the professional players’ code of conduct, and had ignored formal instruction not to make any social media post that “condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality”.
Both are potentially grounds for termination of the player’s contract – which he signed only two months ago and which was due to run for four years.
On Monday, Rugby Australia gave Folau 48 hours to decide whether to contest the finding that he breached the code of conduct.
It will go before a code of conduct committee, which will not meet for at least a week due to the Easter recess.
The committee has the power to decide whether Folau committed a breach, and if so, whether it was a “low, mid or high level” breach.
The burden of proof will be on Rugby Australia to prove the breach, and it will be determined on “the balance of probabilities”.
On Tuesday, Castle explicitly said the organisation found Folau had committed a “high level” breach that warranted termination.
According to the code of conduct, the committee must have at least three members, one of whom should be a lawyer or former judge.
The code of conduct states players must “use social media appropriately”, “treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation”, and must not “bring you, your team or rugby into disrepute”.
Whether something constitutes a low or high level breach depends on whether the action was intentional, whether the conduct “caused offence to the general public’s sensibilities” and caused reputational damage to Rugby Australia, breached the “core value” of “discipline and respect”, and other factors.
On Tuesday, Castle had said Folau “was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as a player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations”.
In April last year he made a similar post that said “God’s plan for gay people was hell”. Rugby Australia issued him a warning but took no disciplinary action.
Last week Castle said: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”