Ugly Folau saga finally ends after sacked star settles with Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby

by Iain Payten

Israel Folau said he shared "Rugby Australia's commitment to inclusiveness and diversity" after settling his legal dispute with Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby.

In an end to a drawn out and divisive eight-month saga, Folau agreed to withdraw his $14 million lawsuit against Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby over his sacking for anti-gay social media posts in May.

The parties had entered a second day of court-ordered mediation on Wednesday after a 12-hour marathon session at the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne on Monday.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, according to a joint statement issued by Rugby Australia and Folau.

"Rugby Australia, NSW Rugby and Israel Folau have today settled their legal dispute following the dismissal of Israel Folau after he posted a religious message on social media (the Social Media Post)," the statement read.

"The Social Media Post reflected Mr Folau’s genuinely held religious beliefs, and Mr Folau did not intend to harm or offend any person when he uploaded the Social Media Post.

"Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he does not condone discrimination of any kind against any person on the grounds of their sexuality and that he shares Rugby Australia’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.  

"Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby do not in any way agree with the content of the Social Media Post.  Inclusiveness is one of Rugby’s core values and it welcomes all people to the game, including all members of the LGBTI community.

"While it was not Rugby Australia’s intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus. Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused.

"Rugby Australia and Mr Folau wish each other well for the future. The Parties do not intend to comment further on the terms of their settlement as it is confidential.

 

Folau issued a statement on Wednesday night saying he was "extremely pleased" with the settlement, and claimed he was vindicated by the Rugby Australia's apology.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle expressed a strong belief on Monday that RugbyAU had a strong legal case against Folau's unlawful termination suit, and that they were doing the "right thing" in standing up for diversity and inclusiveness.

But Castle also pointed to a desire to resolve the matter and the settlement is a sign Rugby Australia were motivated to end the Folau saga, and avoid a costly court battle in February.

It's unknown how much of the settlement was covered by Rugby Australia's insurance arrangements.

It is also unknown whether Folau will seek to keep playing football but it appears his original demand to be re-instated by Rugby Australia and the Waratahs has been dropped, and the NRL have previously said they won't contract the former league player. 

That leaves overseas rugby but potential employers will no doubt be wary given the events of 2019.

Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby after he posted a meme containing the warning that homosexuals would go to hell unless they repented from their sins.

Given it was a similar post to one in 2018, and came after Rugby Australia warnings to not post such material, Folau was issued a Code of Conduct breach.

After an independent Code of Conduct tribunal panel ruled he'd made a "high-level" contract breach for the repeated anti-gay social media posts, Folau's $4 million contract was terminated.

Folau launched legal action against the decision, claiming the social media messages were his religious beliefs and the termination was unlawful.

Folau sought a whopping $14 million in damages, based on his claims of the lost earnings in not only the four years left on his contract, but in subsequent contracts overseas and in post-rugby life as well.

Folau’s “loss and damage” claim stated he would have earned $4.2 million in base salary between 2019 and 2022, another $450,000 in Test match payments, $300,000 in guaranteed sponsorship revenue and another $300,000 from "Lost Israel Folau branded kids’ camp payments”.

Folau also claimed he could have earned up to $4.5 million “following the end of his international career with the Wallabies”, stretching out to as far as 2026.

The former dual international also claimed he could have reaped “career monetary benefits” of up to $50,000 a year for the next year 15-25 years, based on his playing record and "possible captainship of a trophy-winning Wallabies team” in the future, and having helped the Wallabies to "a superior performance at the 2019 Rugby World Cup by the Wallabies than what was achieved without Mr Folau."

Castle made a brief statement heading into court on Monday, where she thanked those in the rugby community for their support.

"We've had many messages and emails of support and it is these messages from those within our community and the wider sports community that leaves us in no doubt that we are doing what is right," Castle said.

"Israel's commentary subsequent to his termination has only reinforced this belief.

"Rugby Australia followed the process for our contracted athletes and the tribunal found that Israel had a high-level breach of his code of conduct that warranted his contract to be terminated.

"During that tribunal process, Israel admitted he had caused harm with his comments and stated that he would not curb his social media use and will post whatever he likes whenever he feels the need to share his views.

"Rugby Australia is confident in its legal position but we come here today with a genuine desire to find a settlement that is sensible and reasonable so that we can return all our focus and resources to growing the game of rugby across Australia, ensuring that all young boys and girls who play the game across Australia have great rugby experiences."