Sacked Wallaby Israel Folau and representatives of Rugby Australia spent most of Monday meeting in a Melbourne courtroom to try to reach a settlement over his $14 million compensation claim.
The sacked Wallaby was joined by his netballer wife Maria Folau when he went to the Federal Court early on Monday for a mediation meeting over his claim against Rugby Australia.
The Folaus led a prayer circle with supporters outside court before heading into the talks.
Folau’s former employers insist they did the right thing sacking him, while the former star says he wants “the truth” to be be upheld.
Folau claims he was wrongfully dismissed by Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW after a controversial Instagram post in April condemning “drunks” and “homosexuals” and warning “hell awaits” them.
“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 chief executive Raelene Castle said outside court on Monday.
The former rugby league and AFL player last week increased his compensation claim from $10 million to $14 million, and said the Wallabies would have done better in the 2019 Rugby World Cup if he was playing.
“I understand that not everyone shares my faith and some find it difficult to reconcile with their own beliefs,” Folau said in a video posted on his website before the meeting.
“I want to be clear that I only share passages from the Bible as a gesture of love.
“We pray that we might all find redemption and peace in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ as we head to today’s mediation, we also ask that He watches over us, so that both parties might realise the courage to uphold the truth.”
But Ms Castle said she had been sent messages and emails from the rugby community supporting the decision to sack Folau.
“That leaves us in no doubt that we are doing what’s right. Israel’s commentary subsequent to his termination has only reinforced this belief,” she said.
Ms Castle said a tribunal found Folau had committed a high-level breach of his contract and he had refused to curb his social media use.
“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,” she said.
Folau’s case will go to trial in February if he and Rugby Australia cannot settle his case beforehand.
Folau has also been accused of “homosexuality vilification” by a prominent gay rights campaigner who has written to the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW, demanding a $100,000 payment to a charity.
Activist Garry Burns on Sunday wrote to the board’s president complaining about Folau’s infamous April Instagram post.
Mr Burns also complained about the rugby player’s video sermon.
He wrote that Folau’s statements were “objectively capable of incitement of contempt and or hatred of homosexual persons on the ground of their homosexuality”.
Folau is a hardline Christian who also recently claimed fatal bushfires were God’s punishment for legalising abortion and same-sex marriage, sparking criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.