Farewell, Folau? Anti-Gay Aussie Rugger Settles Suit, Apologizes

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday December 5, 2019

Anti-gay former rugby star Israel Folau and Rugby Australia got nowhere during a 12-hour mediation process earlier this week, but then managed to agree on a settlement that was announced Dec. 4, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Folau famously torched his own career, losing lucrative sponsorships and a four-year, multi-million dollar contract by continuing to post inflammatory and offensive anti-LGBTQ messages on social media despite warnings from his team and from Rugby Australia. Folau maintains that he is being punished for speaking his Christian beliefs, while Rugby Australia insists that he - like any other professional player bound by the organization's rules - was obliged to adhere to stated policies regarding social media and conduct.

Some in the sport breathed a sigh of relief at news of the settlement. Australian news outlet news.com.au reported on how Greg Martin, a former rugby player who is now a sports announcer, told the media:

"...every time there's good news Izzy has stuck his head up and said, 'I want more money, I'm still suing, I haven't gone away.' "

"Well today is like Christmas because he's finally gone. The anchor has been cut and we've finally cut him loose so that's the last we will hear of him and rugby."

Raelene Castle, the head of Rugby Australia, had come in for criticism for the way she handled the situation, with Folau facing nothing in the way of punishment for his initial social media blasts against LGBTQs. It was only after repeated offenses that Folau was finally fired last spring. He was then found to be in "high breach" of his contract, with that finding validating his termination and the canceling of his contract.

Castle expressed doubt that Folau would play rugby in Australia again, the BBC reported. Though she qualified her comments with the preface "Never say never," Castle went on to add:

"I think it's clear to say our values are not aligned and the expectations that Rugby Australia would have of Israel coming back into the sport would not be acceptable.

"At the end of the day, we have parted ways."

Folau sought to spin the settlement as a victory, pointing to the "apology" he said he received from Rugby Australia and suggesting that the Australian government should now pass laws exempting players from contractual obligations around social media and other forms of conduct when it comes to attacking specific groups of people and then claiming to have done it for religious reasons.

But the joint statement issued by both sides contained elements of apology from Folau, as well. The statement read, in part:

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.

Despite the confidential nature of the settlement, rumors flew thick and fast around just how much cash Folau pocketed. The former star athlete had sought $14 million in his suit against Rugby Australia, claiming, among other things, that he was due to be made captain of the Wallabies - though, the New Zealand Herald reported, his own former teammate David Pocock laughed off that assertion, saying, "I'm not sure where Izzy's getting that from."

Added Pocock:

"I think we can play such an important role in trying to instill values of fairness and inclusivity into kids coming through.

"I found it incredibly disappointing the way he's used his platform around this."

Rumors that Folau had walked away with as much as $8 million were shot down by Raelene Castle, who went onto Twitter to state that, "Folau settlement numbers are confidential but numbers being speculated are wildly inaccurate."

Speaking to the media, Castle reiterated that the sums being speculated upon were off target, and justified the payout, saying:

"The terms are confidential but what you do try to find is a situation that gives RA some certainty, and this settlement gives us that and also ensured that cost to RA was less than seeing a trial through to the end of February."

Tackling one criticism head-on, Castle added: "We didn't back down - we needed to give the game some certainty."

Castle went on to say: "We made the right decision in calling out Israel on his posts and inappropriate messaging, that remains the same."

But will that really be the end of Israel Folau's anti-LGBTQ saga? Maybe not; the former star has been dipping his toes into the fount of homophobic preaching, delivering gay-bashing sermons at his church in recent months.

In one fiery sermon from November, Folau made the claim that Australia's committed same-sex families were the reason for severe brush fires that the country suffered.

Calling the blazes a "little taste of God's judgment," Folau told churchgoers that the disaster was not a "coincidence," but rather God's way of lashing out at the country over the legalization of marriage equality. Folau told his audience that Australia needed to "repent" and "take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God."

Folau's seizing on the natural disaster drew sharp critiques from leaders and ordinary citizens alike. Australian's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, told the media that the former star's remarks were "appalling," and went on to add:

"He is a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes but that doesn't mean he can't have [some sensitivity with regard] to the grievance [and] offense this would have caused to the people whose homes have burnt down."

Moreover, it's not a given that Folau's legal woes are entirely behind him. Australian LGBTQ equality advocate Garry Burns accused Folau of "vilification" of the non-heterosexual community and asked that the anti-gay athlete be required to apologize and make restitution in the form of a $100,000 charitable contribution. Burns lodged the complaint in a Dec. 1 message he sent to the New South Wales discrimination board.

Referencing Folau's accusations against the LGBTQ community with respect to Australia's wildfires, Burns contended that Folau's remarks were "objectively capable of incitement of contempt and or hatred of homosexual persons on the ground of their homosexuality."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.