Israel Folau’s $4 million contract with Rugby Australia has been cancelled, Raelene Castle, Rugby Australia chief executive, has told a press conference.
“While Rugby Australia accepts the panel’s decision directing termination of Israel Folau’s playing contract for his high-level breach of the code of conduct, we want to stress that this is a painful outcome for the game,” she said.
“Rugby Australia did not choose to be in this situation, but Rugby Australia’s position remains that Israel through his actions left us with no choice but to pursue the course of action resulting in today’s outcome.
“Over the last hour, I have communicated with all the professional players that Rugby Australia supports their right to their beliefs and that nothing that has happened changes that. But when we are talking about inclusiveness in our game, we’re talking about respecting differences as well. When we say Rugby is a game for all, we mean it.
“People need to feel safe and welcomed in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion or sexuality.”
Speaking to the importance of this case, Castle added: “This is a decision that will change the landscape for sport in Australia and perhaps overseas.”
Pressed by reporters, Castle said of the players: “They have the right to their religious views provided they express them in a respectful way.
“We had a prayer circle between our players on Saturday, and Rugby Australia and the Waratahs are supportive of that. That expresses their belief in a respectful way.”
“This is not just a terrible result for Israel Folau but an ominous outcome for all Australians.” – Michael Kellahan
While the controversial Instagram post remains up and he remains unapologetic, Castle said she could not see a situation where Folau would be able to play rugby in Australia in the future. She would not speculate what would happen if he were to take the posts down.
Michael Kellahan, executive director of Freedom for Faith, commented: “This is not just a terrible result for Israel Folau but an ominous outcome for all Australians.
“It is one thing for Rugby Australia to hold a position on diversity. It is quite another to require Folau to adhere to what Rugby Australia decides is an acceptable belief on hell. The legal issues here are complex and we do not expect this will be the end of the matter. Many people of different faiths have contacted us this week to say the Folau case has opened their eyes to the growing threats to freedom and changed their voting intentions. We need political leadership which delivers sensible reform that balances legitimate and competing rights. This is not impossible.”
The Australian Christian Lobby’s managing director Martyn Iles called the decision to fire Israel Folau for posting a paraphrased Bible verse “madness.”
“Rugby Australia’s penalty is high handed, inconsistent, and anti-Christian.” – Martyn Iles
“ACL has been consistently warning that religious freedom in Australia is under threat and this latest development makes our concerns abundantly clear,” Iles said in a statement.
“Today’s announcement by Rugby Australia not only marginalises and silences a large portion of Australians who hold to the same belief as Folau, but all Christian rugby players are now being told their beliefs are incompatible with the sport they play.
“Israel Folau’s conduct amounts to mere speech – he has done nothing criminal, he has not publicly disgraced himself, and he has not mistreated anyone. Rugby Australia’s penalty is high handed, inconsistent, and anti-Christian.”
Lawyer Mark Fowler gave Eternity a rundown on possible legal options for Folau. “Israel Folau’s free exercise of religion is protected by a prohibition on religious discrimination under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act. The defences available to Rugby Australia to any claim by Folau relying on that prohibition include an inherent requirements of the role justification and where circumstances exist wherevy Folau has himself acted illegally.
“The first defence is specific to the role undertaken by Folau. It requires an examination of the questions: what precisely is required to fulfil the role of an elite rugby player, and is the limitation placed upon Folau’s free exercise necessary to fulfil that role? The second defence has wider ramifications, it concerns the question of whether Folau’s post is truly vilification at law.
“He may also have rights under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, if he is able to prove that he has been discriminated against on the basis of his ethno-religious identity. This will require an examination of the historical and cultural links between Christianity and Tongan culture.”
Folau has 72 hours in which he can appeal within the Rugby Australia system. then it may be off to the courts.