Folau's hearing forced into a third day
UPDATE: Israel Folau’s future remains no clearer after his landmark code of conduct hearing was forced into a third day following a weekend stalemate at Rugby Australia headquarters in Sydney.
Folau’s defence counsel and RA’s legal team will return on Tuesday after more than 15 hours of legal arguments weren’t enough for the three-person independent panel to start considering a decision.
RA chief executive Raelene Castle was asked to provide verbal evidence for the second day running, with NSW Waratahs supremo Andrew Hore also called as a witness on Sunday.
Folau is fighting to save his career after Castle issued the dual international with a “high-level” breach notice last month and threatened to tear up his four-year, $4 million contract following his latest round of inflammatory social media posts.
The superstar fullback, who reportedly rejected a $1 million offer to walk away from Australian rugby last week, joined Castle and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika in providing evidence on Saturday.
Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph said an Aus$1 million (US$700,000) offer was made to him last week in a bid to avoid the tribunal, which experts have warned could lead to appeals and potentially a long and costly court battle. The offer equated to just one year of his four-year contract.
Folau’s solicitor Ramy Quatami and barrister Adam Casselden have argued that Folau’s Instagram post claiming hell awaits homosexuals and other sinners unless they repent and turn to Jesus was merely a Bible passage and not his direct words.
They also put forward the fact that RA didn’t include a specific social media clause when the John Eales Medallist signed a new contract in February.
But after being formally warned last year when he posted similar passages claiming gays were destined for hell, RA’s legal unit believes the 30-year-old has breached both the player code of conduct and social media policies.
Both Folau and RA will have until 72 hours after any decision is handed down to appeal.
Sunday’s developments came after former Rugby League international Ian Roberts, that code’s first player to come out, aired his grave concerns about how Folau’s posts could impact on young homosexuals.
“These types of remarks can and do push people over the edge. There can’t be any tolerance of bigotry,” Roberts told Channel Nine’s Sports Sunday program.
“I do feel sorry for Israel but there are consequences to your actions.
“I don’t say this lightly and what I’m about to say, the language I use, is hard and it’s for a point, it’s to get that message across – there are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
“I say that with the greatest sense of respect and I’m not implying that Israel is responsible solely for that – please don’t take it that way – but it’s these types of comments and these types of off-the-cuff remarks when you have young people and vulnerable people who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it.”
While Cheika last month said he would find it “difficult” to pick Folau for Australia again and senior teammates including Test captain Michael Hooper condemned him for his provocative stance, Folau has not been without support.
“Seriously … Might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs,” Folau’s Wallabies teammate Taniela Toupou posted on Facebook last Tuesday.
If he does have his contract terminated, Folau would be the first professional athlete in Australian sport wiped out for expressing their extreme religious beliefs.