Rugby AU issues Folau with Code of Conduct breach notice

Mon, Apr 15, 2019, 7:16 AM
Beth Newman
by Beth Newman
NSW Rugby CEO Andrew Hore and Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle. Photo: Walmsley

Israel Folau will have to face a code of conduct hearing if he wants to save his Australian rugby career after being issued a breach notice "warranting termination of his employment contract" by Rugby Australia.

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle revealed that there was no specific clause within Folau's contract regarding his social media use but the fullback had been party to written agreements that he would refrain from posting in a disrespectful way after a similar incident almost a year ago.

"The standard contract here in Australia for all Rugby Australia players is to sit within a standard contract that's agreed with the Players' Association and negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement," she said.

Asked specifically whether a social media clause was included, Castle said there were other agreements in place.

"(There was no clause) within the contract but there was a number of documented meetings that were put in writing, both verbally and in writing, to Israel about our expectations," she said.

"Yes, he agreed to them."

Rugby Australia issued the notice on Monday afternoon and Folau has 48 hours to either accept the breach or request a hearing at a later date. 

Should it go to a hearing, Folau's case would be heard by an independent three-person panel, following a similar process to that of Kurtley Beale in 2014.

It is unclear when that hearing would be able to take place with the upcoming Easter and ANZAC Day public holidays making the logistics difficult.

Folau's four-year, multi-million dollar deal was announced in February and just two months later, he published the post that triggered Rugby Australia's breach notice.

Castle said at the time of negotiating Folau's contract, she was confident the 30-year-old understood the standards that needed to be met when it came to social media.

"I think we both entered into an open conversation around the contract negotiations," she said.

"You start with a point of trust and hopes you can move on from there - that was certainly the very pragmatic and straight forward conversation we had in re-signing him.

"We had an agreement of where the line in the sand was.

"Andrew (Hore) sat down and had a meeting with him, I sat down and had a meeting with him, (Wallabies coach Michael) Cheika sat down, had a meeting with him and explained the implications of this type of posting and that the grief that it causes, the disrespect that it causes and harm that it causes for our rugby community.

"I believe that was a commitment we had but that's clearly not Israel's view." 

There has not been a specific charge made public but Castle said the high level breach was a result of a number of issues under the code of conduct.

Folau met with Castle and Hore last Friday and Castle said he had expressed no remorse about the post nor did he offer an explanation of why he had decided to post another divisive image.

"It's very disappointing from my perspective because I had a very direct and specific conversation with him about the expectations that I had," she said.

"He accepted that conversation, he said that he'd understood that conversation, he shook my hand at the end of that conversation, said he was very clear with it and yet he has gone off and done what he's done."

A number of Wallabies players liked the post on Instagram and many of his Waratahs teammates are also followers of the Christian faith, something Castle and her NSW counterpart Andrew Hore were quick to dismiss religion as the key element in the decision.

"This is not a religious discussion, this is a discussion around the employee, employer relationship and the values in the contractual arrangements within that agreement," she said.

"That's on the basis on which we have served him a breach notice."

Hore said he had addressed the Waratahs players on Monday morning about Folau's situation and the ways to express their beliefs on social media.

"We briefed them on the process and also explained that ultimately we want players to have a view but how that is then expressed is very, very important and that they show respect to all sectors of our rugby community," he said.

"They were very good this morning.

"They understand that this whole situation is awkward for everybody and very tough and I just think they were appreciative of the fact that we went through the process and they understand that they still have a voice and it's about how they put that forward."

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said earlier in the day that he wouldn't be selecting Folau after his latest divisive post and Folau has said he would be willing to walk away from rugby if it came to that.

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