Folau stood down by NSW Rugby, still faces axe after meeting with Rugby AU

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

UPDATE: Israel Folau has been stood down by the Waratahs until further notice with Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby signalling their continued intent to sack the Wallabies star.

After more than 24 hours of attempting to contact Folau, Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby met with the 30-year-old at the Rugby Australia offices on Friday and remained unmoved in their determination to terminate his four-year, multi-million dollar contract.

Initially, no suspension had been imposed on Folau but NSW Rugby released a statement on Friday night confirming it would stand the fullback down.

The Waratahs are on a bye this week but will reconvene early next week ahead of their round 10 clash against the Rebels at the SCG.

Friday's meeting came after Folau was seen with Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) CEO Prataal Raj in Sydney's south-east earlier in the day.

RUPA representatives were also with Folau at the meeting on Friday.

"Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union have met with Israel Folau in Sydney today," a Rugby Australia statement said.

"As the meeting was held in confidence between the player and his employers, Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union will not comment on the discussions at the meeting.

"Following today’s meeting the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps.

"Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged."

A statement from RUPA indicated that Folau intends to fight to save his career in Australian rugby and that any dismissal would need to occur under the Code of Conducts as opposed to any other grounds for termination.

Israel Folau has met with officials from Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby. Photo: Getty ImagesIn cases of a Code of Conduct, the player in question would have to face a three-person independent disciplinary tribunal, like that which was established in 2014 to address Kurtley Beale's breach.

"It is important to note that Israel remains contracted to both Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs at this time, and as such has signalled his intention to continue to honour his contract," the RUPA statement read.

"It is RUPA’s position that any disciplinary action must be dealt with in accordance with the Rugby AU Professional Player Code of Conduct.

RUPA will work alongside Israel and his representatives, the NSW Rugby Union and Rugby Australia to ensure that this process is followed.

"RUPA will continue to offer our support to Israel as required.

"The views expressed by Israel are his alone and are not endorsed by RUPA."

Rugby Australia has not made public their specific grounds for termination and it is unclear how long the process would take regardless of the grounds.

The events of the past two days are a result of Folau posting an "unacceptable" image on his Instagram account, listing homosexuals among a group that would end up in hell.

Rugby Australia were furious with Folau's move, coming almost a year to the day after he had posted similar content and been warned to tone down his divisive posts.

"Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport," a joint Rugby AU and NSW Rugby statement said on Thursday night.

"We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts."

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Reaction to Rugby Australia's decision was mixed, with many supportive of the strong leadership shown and others criticising the organisation for what they viewed as an infringement on Folau's freedom of religious expression.

Folau's younger brother John, who is also contracted with the Waratahs, seemingly posted on Instagram in support of Israel on Friday.

 

Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano said players have to be more careful about what they post on social media in the wake of Folau's controversial posts.

Speaking at the Brumbies' captain's run on Friday morning, Lealiifano became the first Australian Super Rugby player to comment after news of Rugby Australia's announcement that they plan to sack Folau over his latest Instagram post.

While Lealiifano wouldn't comment on Folau's situation specifically, when asked about players' social media use, he admitted everyone had to be careful when posting.

"I'm probably not in a position to answer those, I don't really want to get involved in all that stuff," he said.

"I'm just excited about Joey's 50th game, back in front of our home fans in Canberra.

"We're trying to put a positive light on our footy. Get excited about rugby in Australia and rugby in Canberra and hopefully we can get a good crowd tomorrow night.

"I think we're always conscious of it - with the last day and a half, (the message is) probably just to be more careful of what we're doing. Guys are always trying to promote the game as well as we can."

Israel Folau and Drew Mitchell at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Getty ImagesOne of Folau's former teammates, ex-Wallaby Drew Mitchell, said the star fullback had left Rugby Australia with little choice when it came to their decision.

“Rugby’s an inclusive game for all,” Mitchell told foxsports.com.au.

“We play in a game that is inclusive of everything: race, religion, gender, sexuality, all of it. We’re an inclusive sport.

“If Israel Folau doesn’t want to be involved in a sport that’s inclusive then he should go find another sport because he’s proven time and time again that he doesn’t share those inclusive values.

“I think it’s time for Israel to be moved on.

“He’s left Rugby Australia with only one decision and I think he knew that he was going to do that by posting these things, and perhaps that’s his motivation by doing it.”

Sports Australia CEO Kate Palmer backed Rugby Australia's decision in a statement earlier on Friday.

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OVER CONTROVERSIAL SOCIAL POST

Discrimination is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in any sport or recreation environment, at whatever level,” the statement read.

“Everyone is entitled to their own views, but expressing divisive and discriminatory beliefs is harmful to sport and the broader Australian community.

“When people of influence use their public profiles to demean and discriminate, we cannot allow such divisive comments to go unchecked.

“As a sporting industry, we must stand together and call out against any form of discrimination whether it is based on sexuality, race, gender or disability.

“Sport Australia’s message is that sport and physical activity is to be enjoyed by everyone. We stand for inclusivity, diversity and sport for all.

“I commend Rugby Australia, they have shown they are willing to place their sport’s values above all else.”

The NRL on Thursday night ruled out the possibility of Folau returning to rugby league, where he began his sporting career.

ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie said Folau would not be welcomed back into the code.

"Israel Folau doesn't pass our inclusiveness culture, which is a policy strongly supported by the ARLC,'' Beattie told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"And after talking to some commissioners tonight (Thursday), we don't support him playing rugby league again.''

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is also of the Christian faith, said Folau's comments were insensitive.

"I thought they were terribly insensitive comments and obviously that was a matter for the ARU and they’ve taken that decision,” Morrison told ABC News on Friday.

“It is important that people act with love, care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians.”