Australian rugby star Israel Folau, Rugby Australia (RA) and NSW Rugby have reached an out-of-court settlement over the player’s sacking.
Folau saw his four-year, AUS$4million (US$2.7million) contract ripped up earlier this year after he posted an Instagram image that said ‘hell awaits’ gay people and adulterers.
He was subsequently dropped from the national team and the New South Wales Waratahs. Folau, 30, a Christian, says he was merely voicing his religious beliefs, was treated unfairly and that the sacking derailed his rugby career.
He has also gone on to reassert his beliefs. Just a couple of weeks ago he gave a church sermon in which he suggested recent wildfires in Australia were because God was unhappy with Australia introducing same-sex marriage.
Although RA has consistently said it acted correctly in sacking Folau, he was demanding AUS$14million (US$9.5million) in compensation.
The threat of losing the case, and mounting legal costs, could have financially ruined the sporting organization. Instead, it today reached an out-of-court settlement with Folau to bring the matter to a close.
It also said it “apologizes for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus.” Folau also apologized, “for any hurt or harm caused.” However, his Instagram post remains online.
As part of the settlement, all parties issued a joint statement. It reads as follows:
“Rugby Australia, NSW Rugby and Israel Folau have today settled their legal dispute following the dismissal of Israel Folau after he posted a religious message on social media (the Social Media Post).
“The Social Media Post reflected Mr Folau’s genuinely held religious beliefs, and Mr Folau did not want to harm or offend any person when he uploaded the Social Media Post.
“Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he does not condone discrimination of any kind against any person on the grounds of their sexuality and that he shares Rugby Australia’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.
“Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby do not in any way agree with the content of the Social Media Post. Inclusiveness is one of Rugby’s core values and it welcomes all people to the game, including all members of the LGBTI community.
“While it was not Rugby Australia’s intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologizes for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus. Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologizes for any hurt or harm caused.
“Rugby Australia and Mr Folau wish each other well for the future. The parties do not intend to comment further on the terms of their settlement as it is confidential.”
Neither party is allowed to reveal how much money Folau has been paid. However, Folau has said that he feels “vindicated”.
Folau uploaded a video to his official accounts after news of the settlement broke.
In it, he says he and wife Maria are “extremely pleased” with the settlement.
“We have been vindicated and can now move on with our lives to focus on our faith and our family. Maria and I would like to thank God for his guidance and strength.”
He goes on to say, “We started this journey on behalf of all people of faith to protect their rights of freedom of speech and religion,” and expresses the hope the Australian government will introduce religious protection legislation.
Reacting to news of the settlement, Greg Martin, a former player turned high profile sports commentator told AAP the ongoing threat of legal action was overshadowing Australian rugby.
“Today is like Christmas because he’s finally gone away.
“The anchor has been cut and we’ve finally cut him loose so that’s the last we will hear of him and rugby.”
There is no indication from either party Folau will be allowed to play again for any Australian rugby team.
However, news of the settlement has been met with disappointment by many in the LGBTQ community.
Pride in Sport, an organization that campaigns for greater diversity and inclusion in Australian sport, issued a statement commending RA for swiftly sacking Folau and striving to encourage diversity.
However, its co-founder, Andrew Purchas went on to say, “We share in the disappointment that an apology from Israel Folau has not been forthcoming to our communities, and note that his post remains on his Instagram feed.
“We share people’s anger and frustration. We also acknowledge the action Rugby Australia took in terminating Mr Folau from his contract and disassociating him from the game, which values inclusion and diversity.”