Israel Folau, the Australian rugby player fired for posting controversial comments on social media, has set up a GoFundMe page. On it, Folau is asking for help raising $3 million to fund legal proceedings should he not be able to reach an agreement with Rugby Australia (RA) over what he believes is a wrongful termination of his contract.
“My wife Maria and I have already spent over $100,000 of our own money, and that was just to try and deal with Rugby Australia’s internal tribunal processes,” Folau wrote on the page. “The money I am asking for is solely to fund the rest of my action in court.”
No Longer a Top Rugby Player
Folau, who was a rugby star and one of Australia’s highest-paid players, is seeking compensation for the contract he lost, which was estimated at $4 million and, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, would have expired in 2022. Folau was found to be in breach of contract for repeatedly posting controversial comments on social media expressing his beliefs that homosexuality is a sin and that sinners will go to hell. On the GoFundMe page, Folau wrote he believes “that sharing the Bible is an act of love and compassion” and that he was wrongfully fired for expressing his convictions. The result is he has lost his livelihood and can no longer play rugby in his home country.
But Folau does not believe his legal battle is for himself alone. In a video on the page, he says, “Even people who don’t share my beliefs have defended my right to uphold and express them. They made me realise I’m not just fighting for my future and my family; I’m fighting for what is right. But I can’t do it alone.”
Folau expects his legal battle to be expensive. “Rugby Australia have already said that they will ‘divert significant resources’ to fight me in court,” he said. “Even if I win, Rugby Australia can appeal. There is every chance that a prominent test case like this could take years and eventually end up in the High Court of Australia.”
History of the Controversy
You can read a timeline of Folau’s career and its attending controversy here. The challenges seem to have started in 2017 when Folau tweeted that he disagreed with same-sex marriage.
I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage.✌❤🙏
— Israel Folau (@IzzyFolau) September 13, 2017
In April 2018, an Instagram user asked Folau what God’s plan for gay people is. He responded by writing an article for Players Voice, titled “I’m a Sinner Too,” where he elaborated on his beliefs and his personal journey of faith. By that point, Rugby Australia was trying to figure out how to deal with the uproar around Folau’s posts, as well as the fact that his views on gay marriage stood in opposition to their own.
In the article, Folau addressed the fact that he had met with RA chief executive Raelene Castle and Waratahs general manager Andrew Hore. In that meeting, it seems that Castle and Hore brought up the challenges that Folau was causing to RA by expressing his views. Folau wrote that he told them he would not compromise his beliefs, but that he also understood where RA was coming from. He said, “I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable–that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through–I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”
Interestingly, as evidence that he is not bigoted toward gay people, Folau also mentioned that in 2014 he appeared on the cover of the LGBT publication Star Observer showing his support for the Bingham Cup, an international gay rugby competition.
But Folau continued to put controversial posts on social media, despite being warned not to do so. This was the last one he posted before being fired in May 2019.
Response from Critics
Critics have cried foul regarding Folau’s decision to take legal action, accusing him of contradicting his words in the Players Voice article, where he had said he was willing to walk away from his contract if his posts were harming RA and the Australian rugby community. The author of an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald accused him of hypocrisy, saying, “As a good Christian man, your word should be your bond, and when you make a commitment that should be the end of it….Do [your words] count for anything or not? How do your words fit your commitment?”
The author also took issue with the GoFundMe page, saying GoFundMe “is specifically set up to fund those who cannot fund themselves, calling on the generosity of the community to raise money for things like removing tumours.” The author believes that a star rugby player and millionaire has no business calling on people to help fund legal proceedings over a contract he deliberately broke.
Folau, however, seems to have plenty of people backing him up. At the time of this writing, he has raised nearly half a million dollars, even though his GoFundMe page has only been up for a couple of days. He told his supporters, “I have the fight of my life on my hands and every little bit will help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”