Israel Folau has thanked all those who have contributed to his runaway public appeal to raise $3 million to fund a legal battle against Rugby Australia.
Folau said he was humbled by the support he had received. His social media post came as pledges to his Australian Christian Lobby support page neared $1.9 million at 4.30pm on Wednesday (AEST).
“I am forever grateful,” Folau told his donors in an Instagram post.
Folau is in the “fight of my life” to be reinstated by Rugby Australia, which pulled his $4 million contract in May after the committed Christian posted a Bible passage on social media and was criticised for being homophobic.
The post said “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented.
ACL stepped in to back Folau’s legal fight after his first public appeal on GoFundMe was pulled on Tuesday for breaching the platform’s terms of service. Pledges to the ACL page quickly topped what the former Wallaby had raised on GoFundMe – coming in at a rate of $1000 a minute for much of Tuesday.
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I am humbled by the support I have received from so many of you since Rugby Australia terminated my employment contract after I shared a religious message on social media. To those who have criticised me, I bear no ill will towards you. You have every right to express your own beliefs and opinions. To the thousands of you who donated to my GoFundMe campaign, I am forever grateful. GoFundMe’s decision to shut down my campaign proves the importance of my case; whether you share my faith or believe in my right to express it, attempts to sanction what we believe is a threat to all Australians. I am incredibly thankful for the Australian Christian Lobby, which has not only come to my defence in the media, but generously established a website to receive donations on my behalf. For those not in a position to donate, your support and prayers will make more of a difference than anything else. God bless!
A post shared by Israel Folau (@izzyfolau) on
On Wednesday, ACL head Martyn Iles said the average donation was just under $100 and the number of donors was still being clocked at 10 a minute.
“The quiet Australians are speaking with their wallets,” he told Seven’s Sunrise program.
“A lot of people have actually said that they want to give, but GoFundMe haven’t refunded them yet – so there’s a lot of juice left in this.”
Meanwhile, ANZ bank – a naming rights sponsor for Netball New Zealand – has denied applying pressure over support from Folau’s wife, Maria, for her husband.
Maria Folau, who plays for New Zealand’s Silver Ferns and Super Netball’s Adelaide Thunderbirds, has made no public statements on her husband’s legal fight. But last weekend, she reposted two links to his fundraising campaign on her own social media.
“We value our partnership with Netball NZ and any suggestion we have tried to pressure them is absolutely incorrect,” ANZ said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mr Iles said Maria Folau shouldn’t be targeted.
“They have condemned her for sharing a post by her husband and putting her employer, the New Zealand national netball team, on notice as well,” he told Nine’s Today show.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all. This is precisely the reason why people are supporting Israel Folau.
“It is all under this language of inclusion, but not so inclusive they can include somebody with beliefs they disagree with.”
New Zealand media reported on Tuesday that ANZ had raised concerns about Maria Folau’s support for her husband. It said it did not support “the views of Silver Fern Maria Folau” and had made its position known to Netball NZ, but would continue its support for the game, according to website Stuff.
The website also reported that another sponsor, MYOB, had released a statement reminding Netball NZ that it expected it to share and express its “values of diversity, tolerance and inclusion” but took no position on Maria Folau.
Mondelez NZ, another of the sport’s sponsors, issued a statement from Cara Liebrock, its managing director, that did not address the Folaus directly but said the company condemned homophobic views.
Netball Australia and Super Netball released a joint statement on Sunday saying they did not believe they needed to take any action as a result.
ANZ said while it would continue to support Netball NZ, “we do not support any views or actions that can be interpreted as supporting homophobia”.
Mr Iles also rejected suggestions the ACL was breaching its obligations as a charity by hosting the campaign, amid reports complaints had been lodged with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
He said Israel Folau was not an ACL member and the organisation’s purpose was to advocate changes in law and public policy.
“This is a religious freedom issue which has implications for law and public policy,” he said.