Underfire Wallabies star Israel Folau has been labelled either “extremely naive or stupid” after an anti-gay tweet that could see him sacked by Rugby Australia.
Folau and Rugby Australia are headed for a bitter showdown with the embattled Wallabies superstar pledging to tackle the governing body head on in a desperate bid to save his career.
Folau met RA boss Raelene Castle on Friday, with neither party backing down in a feud that threatened to turn ugly.
Folau maintained a stony silence after earlier holding crisis talks amid RA’s threat to tear up his multi-million-dollar contract following his latest attacks on homosexuals.
Speaking on ABC’s Offsiders on Sunday morning, journalist Richard Hinds said RA’s decision was “purely a commercial one”.
“I haven’t seen Israel Folau’s contract, obviously. I don’t know what’s in there,” he said. “It’s interesting how this has instantly lurched into a culture wars issue about free speech.
“To me this is a pure commercial decision they’ve made. If he’s been warned and then endangered their sponsorship by what he’s messaging as an ARU employee, how many employees survive that?
“Surely he’s not sitting at his keyboard about to push the button or on his phone, not knowing the bomb he’s about to let off. He would have to be extremely naive or stupid not to know that.”
But fellow panellist John Harms said it was important the issue was not oversimplified.
“I heard some commentary yesterday talking about Folau being brainwashed and mumbo jumbo,” he said.
“Whatever your view of it might be, it is his religious position and has to be respected as such.”
But host Kellie Underwood denied it was a religious issue.
“He can claim he’s been discriminated against because of his religion but this, John, is not about religion,” she said.
“No-one is saying you’re out of the game because of your religion. They’re saying you’re out of the game because your opinions that you’re airing in public on social media do not align in any way whatsoever with the values of our code.
“He can hide behind religion all he wants but I think it’s a cop-out.”
ISRAEL FIGHTS TO SAVE HIS CAREER
Supported by his professional netballer wife Maria, the three-time John Eales Medallist Folau spent Friday morning at a Sydney cafe with Rugby Union Players’ Association boss Prataal Raj and another RUPA representative plotting his next move.
He refused to talk when approached by a TV reporter, but it’s understood Folau told Raj he wanted to observe his right to challenge RA’s planned sacking at a code of conduct hearing.
Rugby Australia later released a telling joint statement with the NSW Waratahs. “Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged,” it said. “Following today’s meeting, the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps.” On Friday evening, the NSW Rugby Union doubled down with its own statement, saying Folau had been stood down.
“NSW Rugby Union has stood down Israel Folau from all player duties with the NSW Waratahs until further notice.” RA and NSW Rugby had on Thursday night said Castle had been unable to “directly contact” Folau to advise him of her intention to terminate his $4 million four- year contract.
Castle later took to Twitter to clarify that she’d been in “in constant contact” with Folau’s manager Isaac Moses in the 24 hours since his latest social media attacks on homosexuals as well as “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”, who Folau said were all destined for hell.
“He (Moses) did reach Israel, however I was unable to speak with him,” Castle tweeted.
“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.” Beyond his fierce commitment to his faith, it remains a mystery as to what had motivated Folau to continue his social media outbursts after being warned last year to express his views in a “respectful” manner.
It would seem incomprehensible that the code-hopping ace would risk his career – and the opportunity to win a World Cup this year with the Wallabies – if he didn’t have another playing option.
But with ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie slamming the door shut on Folau attempting to return to the NRL, it appears a move overseas – or retirement – will be his only options if unsuccessful in any appeal against RA’s intention to cut him free.
Beattie said the former Test and State of Origin rugby league star “fails the NRL’s inclusiveness culture”.
Folau’s spectacular fall from grace even had the prime minister weighing in on Friday.
“I thought they were terribly insensitive comments and, obviously, that was a matter for the ARU and they’ve taken that decision,” Scott Morrison said.
“It is important that people act with love, care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians.”
Sport Australia boss Kate Palmer commended Rugby Australia’s strong stance against discrimination and vilification and urged all sports to follow suit.
But former Wallabies coach Alan Jones slammed RA’s threat to sack Folau, saying the decision had “completely corrupted” free speech in Australia.
– With AAP