Like one of his trademark mazy solo runs from full-back, the Israel Folau saga has taken yet another twist.
After the mercurial 30 year old shared a post on social media stating that “hell awaits” gay people, his employers Rugby Australia (RA) and the New South Wales Rugby Union – for which he represents the Waratahs in Super Rugby – stated they intend to terminate his respective contracts.
“He does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts,” the governing bodies said. “In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”
However, after meeting with RA, NSW Rugby and Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) boss Prataal Raj, Folau may yet grace a rugby field in the near future.
A report this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald stated that Folau intended to turn up to training with Waratahs on Monday as he is still contracted with the union. This despite a joint statement from RA and NSW Rugby outlining their position:
“Following today’s meeting the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps,” the statement said. “Our join position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged.”
This public announcement of their intention to fire the player may prove his lifeline as they did not go through the requisite Code of Conduct hearing. In fact, the statement from the two bodies did not once mention a Code of Conduct hearing which Folau’s lawyers may argue resulted in him being denied due process.
Adding to the confusion is the addition to Folau’s RA contract of a social media clause signed last October that enabled the board to sack him when he posted the offensive post.
This is not the first time Folau has enflamed public opinion. In 2017 he was involved in a disagreement with teammates after saying he was opposed to same-sex marriages and in 2018 was widely criticise for another disparaging anti-gay post.
But under the General Contracting section of the Collective Bargaining Agreement of RUPA, the only additional clauses that can be added into a player contract are those that benefit or could potentially benefit the player. This clause that triggered Folau’s sacking is patently not beneficial to him as an individual. Whether or not RUPA was made aware of the punitive clause is unclear.
Key figures within rugby’s fraternity have made their feelings known. Waratahs team-mate and Japan captain Michael Leitch has called Folau’s comments a “stab in the heart” while England prop Joe Marler tagged Folau on a Twitter post accompanied by an image of two men kissing.
National Rugby League (NRL), where Folau’s athletic career began, have categorically refused to welcome him back.
Mourad Boudjellal, owner of the mega-rich French club Toulan, shot down speculation of signing Folau by calling him “a moron.”
This story has some way to go but the indelible mark that Folau’s incendiary comments have made can’t be ignored. Australia’s brightest talent has ostracised himself from the community that has given him so much. The sport has drawn a collective line in the sand. Whether the player’s lawyers are able to cross it remains to be seen.