It’s a furore that’s not going away and only getting nastier. Disgraced former Wallabies star Israel Folau is suing Rugby Australia for A$10 million in damages after he was fired for homophobia.
Folau’s lawyers have filed papers with the Fair Work Commission claiming that he was sacked because of his personal values. They argue that he is a victim of religious discrimination and lost millions in income and opportunities.
“The termination has cost Mr Folau the best years of his rugby career, participation at the Rugby World Cup, the chance to become the greatest Wallaby try-scorer (a decades-old record he was likely to break), and the associated exposure and opportunities,” claims Folau’s legal team.
If the matter is not resolved through the Commission the case may proceed to the Federal Court. Folau, 30, who is a fervent conservative Christian, said in a statement that he felt compelled to stand up for his beliefs.
“Ours is an amazing country built on important principles, including freedom of religion. A nation made up of so many different faiths and cultural backgrounds will never be truly rich unless this freedom applies to all of us,” he asserted.
Rugby Australia responded that it had terminated Folau’s contract because of his “serious breach” of the Professional Players Code of Conduct and would defend its values.
“This is an issue of an employee and his obligations to his employers within the contract that he signed. He was bound by a Code of Conduct for all professional players in Australia that spells out clear guidelines and obligations regarding player behaviour, including respectful use of social media.”
An independent panel, which sat for 22 hours and heard testimony from several witnesses and reviewed over 1000 pages of evidence, determined that Folau’s conduct violated the code of conduct.
“As a sport that is proud of the values of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork that underpin our game globally and our Code of Conduct, we will defend those values and the right for all people to feel safe and welcome in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion or sexuality,” said Rugby Australia.
Folau came under fire in April after sharing an Instagram post declaring that “Hell awaits” gay people. On Twitter, he also called on Australians to “repent and turn away from your evil ways” over the introduction of gender optional birth certificates in the state of Tasmania.
Folau, who was warned in 2018 about a previous homophobic post, refused to apologise or retract the comments.