Fallen Wallabies star Israel Folau has 48 hours to request a Rugby Australia [RA] Code of Conduct hearing, after he was on Monday issued with a breach notice for the social media comments he made last week.
Rugby Australia deemed those comments, which have thrown the game into the spotlight given their anti-gay sentiments, to be a “high-level” breach of the code and worthy of contract termination.
Folau can either choose to accept his Australian rugby career is over, as he has said he is prepared to do, or opt to front a Rugby Australia hearing and make a case for his future.
“At its core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and the commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values,” RA chief executive Raelene Castle said via a media release.
“Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations. It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.
“All professional Rugby players in Australia are bound by the Code of Conduct and there is a process in place for any disciplinary matter. We appreciate that this particular matter will attract significant interest, but due process must be followed.”
Castle fronted the media on Monday afternoon, saying the entire episode had come as a huge shock after Rugby Australia, the Waratahs and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika had all spoken with Folau after his original posts in 2018 and made it clear where any further comments could leave his career.
“Because that’s exactly the conversation that we had,” Castle said when asked whether Folau knew the risky situation he was in. “He understood; it was made very clear to him; Andrew sat down and had a meeting with him, I sat down and had a meeting with him; Cheika sat down and had a meeting with him; and explained the implications of this type of posting and the grief that it causes, and disrespect that it causes and harm that it causes for our rugby community, and that’s not a position that we’re prepared to move forward with.”
Earlier on Monday, Cheika told reporters Folau’s “disrespectful” comments would currently make it impossible to pick the superstar for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Folau remains stood down over his latest social media post proclaiming hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”.
Those remarks make it difficult for Cheika to envision the 30-year-old being part of the Wallabies’ plans for the tournament in Japan, starting in September.
“You wouldn’t be able to,” Cheika said when asked whether he’d be able to select Folau again under the circumstances.
Cheika, Wallabies and NSW Waratahs captain Michael Hooper and Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson all fronted the media in Sydney on Monday morning.
Asked if he was comfortable taking the field again alongside Folau, flanker Hooper said “In this current state and being here and talking about this as a rugby player, it makes it hard, it makes it difficult.’
While emphasising what their teams stood for, especially in regards to diversity, they also stressed Folau was entitled to his beliefs.
‘Everybody has the right – and we respect that right – to believe whatever they like, we’re not moral judgers and no one should be,’ Cheika said.
“You take your friends warts and all, and your teammates,’ Hooper said.
“It’s frustrating having to stand here here because I can’t speak for Israel, but it is part of the team celebrating our diversity and celebrating that in a respectful manner.”
Cheika conceded Folau had crossed a line which was marked when the religiously-motivated Folau made similar tweets a year ago.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika discusses Israel Folau’s fate for the Rugby World Cup.
“Getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team’s about,” Cheika said on Monday.
“When you play in the gold jersey, we represent everyone in Australia – everyone. Everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.”
Cheika didn’t think the issue would rear its head again after the controversy of last year’s tweets and Rugby Australia’s subsequent talks with Folau.
He had tried unsuccessfully to contact him for an explanation.
“We had a discussion at the end of the last time and made it pretty clear about his right to believe and our support in that if that’s what he wants,” he said.
“I felt that I needed to talk to him about why, and I haven’t had that chance as yet. I’m sure I will in the future at some stage when it settles down for him a little bit.
“I made the calls and left the messages. There’s no beef.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Folau had a right to an opinion but had probably let himself down in the way he had done so.
“Even this morning I read he firmly believes it so he’s just missing one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I think,’ Hansen said.
The Waratahs, who play Melbourne Rebels in a big Super Rugby Australian conference derby this weekend, have sidelined Folau.
He has refused to back down from his social media attack and says he’s prepared to walk away from the game for the sake of his faith.