Sacked rugby union star Israel Folau admitted five months ago his controversial Instagram posts breached the sport’s code of conduct, Rugby Australia claims.
The staunch Christian is suing RA and the NSW Waratahs for unlawful dismissal, claiming his firing earlier this year over the social media messages was because of his religion.
In one post in April Folau claimed transgender people were evil and should repent while another said homosexuals were living in sin and would go to hell unless they repented.
It was the second time he’d been pulled up for the same conduct, after it was revealed he offered to walk away from the sport and his contract over similar posts in April 2018.
RA and the Waratahs filed their formal defences to Folau’s allegations on Wednesday, revealing Folau conceded before a league tribunal in May that his posts had breached the sport’s code of conduct.
Faced with his concessions and refusal to remove the posts, the tribunal had little choice but to direct his contract be terminated, RA claims.
It says it’s “remarkable” Folau now claims his posts did not breach the code and that he also conceded to the tribunal that the posts had the potential to damage RA’s relationship with sponsors and knew transgender and homosexual people may have been offended.
Folau claims his sacking was on the basis of his religion and has meant he can no longer play rugby union at an international level.
But RA rejects his arguments, claiming Folau’s expressions of faith had always been supported, “provided that these were done in a respectful and inclusive manner”.
“Rugby Australia’s objection to the posts at issue was not their religious content but rather their tone and attributes,” the defence says.
The Waratahs also filed their defence to Folau’s claims on Wednesday, pointing to their once top player’s conduct as bound to continue to cause outrage and threats of boycotts.
“It was of concern to (the Waratahs) that (Folau) continued, unrepentantly, to assert an entitlement to express homophobic views on an Instagram feed reaching many hundreds of thousands of rugby followers,” the Super Rugby franchise said.
They also denied Folau’s restraint of trade claims, pointing to his former careers as an elite AFL and Rugby League player.
His termination does not stop him playing other sporting codes professionally, including internationally, they said.
The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting Rugby Australia awarded Folau a A$550,000 (NZ$590,000) pay rise six months after the dual international made his first homophobic posts.
In documents filed in the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne as part of Rugby Australia’s defence against Folau’s unlawful termination claim, it is revealed Folau signed a contract worth a minimum of A$4.8 million last October.
The improved offer was a A$400,000 pay upgrade on his 2015 contract, which was worth a minimum of A$4.25 million and included a A$750,000 payment for taking on the role of an Australian Rugby Foundation ambassador.
It followed a warning – but no punishment – from Rugby Australia.
Folau is indeed hoping to make a return to international rugby next month, with a bid to play for Tonga in Tests against Great Britain and Australia.
Australian Rugby League Chairman Peter Beattie has already ruled out Folau making a return to league in Australia but the International Federation is expected to discuss his return on Thursday.