Sacked Wallabies star Israel Folau has spoken out for the first time since launching a controversial crowdfunding campaign to cover his legal costs, ahead of a looming unfair dismissal case against Rugby Australia.
The 30-year-old established the GoFundMe campaign Thursday night to raise $3 million, imploring supporters who believed he was ‘merely expressing his religious beliefs’ to contribute.
Speaking to Sydney shock jock Alan Jones on radio 2GB on Friday morning, Folau insisted the drawn-out battle against RA’s termination of his $5 million contract was driven by Christian principles, not money.
— Israel Folau (@IzzyFolau) June 20, 2019
“My faith is what defines me as a person, that is who I am. My identity is found in my faith and that is the whole reason I am wanting to stand up and fight this,” Folau told Jones’ morning program.
“Everything I do and everything I live by is based on the principles of what is written in [the bible].
“A lot of this [legal battle] doesn’t make any sense, you know. It’s been a little bit inconsistent. It’s been tough.”
Donations towards Folau’s campaign topped $322,000 in less than 24 hours. Many top donations have come from anonymous sources – including the highest single sum of $10,000.
By 9am on Saturday, almost $500,000 had been raised.
Former teammates repent Folau’s actions
Several ex-Wallabies teammates have put Folau’s plea for public money on blast. Former Wallabies great Drew Mitchell accused Folau of being motivated by greed, and suggested he was pulling attention away from life-changing causes on the crowd-funding site.
YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do??!!
— Drew Mitchell (@drew_mitchell) June 21, 2019
Soon-to-retire Waratahs and Wallabies halfback Nick Phipps said the saga embroiling his former teammate was “extremely disappointing”.
“He can have those views, that’s fine, everyone’s allowed to have their own opinions,” Phipps said.
“It’s disappointing because the players that haven’t been involved in this are still so on trial.
“There are players very close to Izzy who are very Christian as well and that’s tough for them to understand.”
Folau: "Could you make a donation, within your capacity to give, in order to support my action? I have the fight of my life on my hands and every little bit will help"
also Folau: pic.twitter.com/GhUpwkYJXF
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) June 20, 2019
So…where did Israel Folau's millions of dollars from earnings in three codes, including representative bonuses, numerous sponsorship and endorsement deals, in a career spanning 12 years go? He's seriously saying he can't afford legal costs? Get real.
— Melanie Dinjaski (@MelanieDinjaski) June 21, 2019
Folau said he was saddened by the condemnation from his former teammates.
“It was quite a shock and to me – whether or not that was really what they meant, I don’t take any of those things personal. I have no harsh feelings towards them,” Folau said.
Folau contends he was respectful towards targets
An independent three-person panel ruled last month that Folau had breached Rugby Australia’s professional players’ code of conduct, after posting homophobic social media messages.
Folau quoted Bible verses in several Instagram posts, suggesting “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators and thieves” were destined for hell.
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said the former Australian rugby stalwart’s sacking was “a painful situation for the game.”
“Through his actions, [Israel] left us with no choice but to pursue a course of action resulting in today’s outcome,” Castle said last month.
Folau told Jones that his posts remained respectful of those he targeted.
“When I share things from the Bible, it comes from a place of love and wanting people to understand that I’m not speaking to them personally,” Folau said.
“If people have an opportunity to hear that so that if they do choose to repent and turn away from that then they have an opportunity to be in heaven one day, which is what I long for people to do.”
In his pitch to donors, Folau wrote he and his wife, Maria, had already devoted $100,000 to deal with Rugby Australia’s internal processes.
The couple expects the legal squabble, which will begin in the Fair Work Commission and could eventually end up in the High Court, will last for several years.
“Rugby Australia have already said that they will “divert significant resources” to fight me in court,” Folau wrote on his campaign page.
“I know I am putting myself on the line – this action will be very costly in terms of time, money and reputation – but I do not intend to stop now.”
Folau’s sporting career has spanned three codes – rugby union, rugby league and AFL – over 12 years. His career salary payments are estimated to have exceeded $10 million.