Israel Folau’s legal team is working feverishly to save his career after the Wallabies superstar was found guilty of committing a “high level” breach of his contract
Folau’s future in Australian rugby is looking increasingly grim after an independent panel retired to consider a sanction following an intense three-day code of contract hearing in Sydney.
Folau’s fate now rests in the hands of the three-person panel comprising chair John West QC, Rugby Australia (RA) representative Kate Eastman SC and the RUPA-appointed John Boultbee.
RA boss Raelene Castle issued Folau with a breach notice last month following his controversial social media posts about homosexuals and other sinners and threatened to tear up his four-year, $4 million contract.
The 30-year-old devout Christian took to Instagram to proclaim “hell awaits” for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators.”
While Folau may yet be spared the sack, termination of his contract is now a possibility.
The panel will consider written submissions from both Folau and RA before a sanction is handed down—with no time frame on any decision provided.
It is likely to be several more days before Folau learns his fate—and even then the three-times John Eales Medallist is expected to appeal and one of the most divisive cases in Australian sports history will wind up in the courts.
Folau and his legal team will plead for leniency on the issue, saying while it is a high-level offence, he should be fined and suspended instead of having his contract torn up.
RA will argue they have no option but to go through with the sacking of Folau, given his vilification of the gay community—among other alleged “sinners” in controversial social media posts—and the damage he has caused the game.
Had the panel deemed Folau’s breach of RA’s players’ code of conduct anything less than “high level,” the governing body would not have had the power to boot the devout Christian out of the game.
The best punishment Folau can now hope for is a suspension and/or a fine.
Should he be sacked, Folau—Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer and a 73-Test stalwart for the Wallabies—would be the first Australian athlete dismissed for expressing fundamental religious beliefs.
Folau also has the right to appeal, a process that would involve a completely new three-person panel being selected.
Even before it potentially reaches the courts, the Folau hearing has developed into one of the most drawn-out legal stoushes in Australian sports history.
The hearing stretched 22 hours over three days, with any hopes of a “common sense” settlement—as NSW Waratahs chairman Roger Davis had hoped for on May 6—were blown out of the water by Tuesday night’s sensational development.
Folau spent more than twice as long holed up at the hearing than he has played for the Waratahs in 2019.
RA initially anticipated all evidence being heard in one day, with Sunday also reserved if more time was needed.
The decision was expected to be handed down on Tuesday.
Instead, the hearing resumed at the offices of Herbert Smith Freehills in Sydney’s CBD on Tuesday after some of the brightest brains in the land spent the weekend arguing the complex case at RA headquarters.
As well as the extraordinary length of the hearing, the cost of the case is also mounting, with the two parties thought to have shelled out an estimated $300,000 on legal bills since Saturday alone.
Regardless of the panel’s ultimate decision, the expenses are almost certain to keep piling up.
Folau’s Wallabies teammate Quade Cooper—himself frozen out last year by Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn—was asked earlier on Tuesday if he could see any way back for the stood-down star.
“I’m not too sure—that’s something you would have to speak to (his Waratahs teammates) Bernard (Foley) and Nick Phipps and Michael Hooper and those guys about,” Cooper said, adding that he empathised with Folau’s flight.
“You feel for anyone who’s going through a difficult patch in their life.”