Sup­port for Fo­lau di­vides spon­sors

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - NICK TABAKOFF AS­SO­CIATE EDI­TOR

Rugby Aus­tralia’s de­ci­sion not to sanc­tion Is­rael Fo­lau yes­ter­day has failed to con­vince a num­ber of its spon­sors, with one key cor­po­rate part­ner last night re­veal­ing it would pull its sup­port from the code and oth­ers re­view­ing their po­si­tion.

How­ever, other Wal­la­bies part­ners have recom­mit­ted in the wake of the Fo­lau con­tro­versy, say­ing that rugby should be in­clu­sive of all views, in­clud­ing re­li­gious free­doms.

Sev­eral other spon­sors have pri­vately aired con­cerns that the body has lost “con­trol” of Fo­lau.

The maker of the Wal­la­bies’ of­fi­cial sports drink, SOS Hy­dra­tion, told The Aus­tralian last night that it would with­draw its sup­port from Rugby Aus­tralia, de­spite cur­rently still be­ing listed on the body’s web­site: “For a num­ber of rea­sons, there are no plans to move for­ward with our part­ner­ship,” SOS’s Aus­tralian man­ag­ing di­rec­tor An­drew Shaw said. “SOS sup­ports in­clu­sive­ness and wel­fare of all ath­letes.”

How­ever, one key Wal­la­bies part­ner, Tay­lors Wines, threw its sup­port be­hind Fo­lau and Rugby Aus­tralia’s han­dling of the mat­ter, with a spokesman say­ing: “Rugby is in­clu­sive for every­one, whether you have re­li­gious be­liefs or sup­port same-sex mar­riage. We will con­tinue to sup­port the sport of rugby and the Wal­la­bies.”

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, Rugby Aus­tralia re­vealed it would not sanc­tion Fo­lau, ei­ther for his com­ments last week on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, or for his claims on web­site Play­ers Voice on Mon­day that Rugby Aus­tralia boss Rae­lene Cas­tle had “mis­rep­re­sented my po­si­tion and my com­ments, and did so to ap­pease other peo­ple”.

“Is­rael said he did not in­tend to up­set peo­ple in­ten­tion­ally or bring hurt to the game,” Ms Cas­tle said. “We ac­cept Is­rael’s po­si­tion.”

Ms Cas­tle has pre­vi­ously ad­mit­ted the level of spon­sor con­cerns about Fo­lau’s stance.

“That’s the con­ver­sa­tion we have had with Qan­tas, (whose CEO) Alan Joyce is very clear they have an in­clu­sion pol­icy — it is about ev­ery one of their em-

ploy­ees liv­ing to­wards that,” she said. “That’s fun­da­men­tally what a sport like rugby has to be.”

Yes­ter­day, other spon­sors, while ex­press­ing no change to their pub­lic stances, pri­vately ex­pressed con­cerns about Rugby Aus­tralia’s lat­est pub­lic com­ments about Fo­lau: “It sounds like they have ab­so­lutely no con­trol of him,” one spon­sor said. The same spon­sor was par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of what it saw as con­tra­dic­tory mes­sages in yes­ter­day’s Rugby Aus­tralia state­ment, on the one hand not­ing it would not sanc­tion Fo­lau while also not­ing it would “re­mind all em­ploy­ees of their obli­ga­tion to use so­cial me­dia in a re­spect­ful way”.

“It’s pretty lame, and it’s a con­tra­dic­tion,” the key spon­sor said. “Rugby Aus­tralia should just say: ‘ Re­mind all em­ploy­ees — ex­cept Is­rael Fo­lau’.”

The same spon­sor made it clear it held con­cerns Ms Cas­tle had said she would take a strong stance in favour of diver­sity and in­clu­sion when she be­came CEO a few months back. “She told us she’d be tak­ing a strong stand,” the spon­sor said. “She might think she’s tak­ing a strong stand, but we don’t.”

An­other spon­sor made it clear Rugby Aus­tralia was on no­tice fol­low­ing Fo­lau’s so­cial­me­dia com­ments. “What hap­pened, hap­pened, and no one ex­pects it to hap­pen again.”

A third un­named spon­sor, which is plan­ning to con­tinue sup­port­ing Rugby Aus­tralia, had sym­pa­thy for its dilemma :“They’ re in a very dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. They don’t have any con­trol over him. Yet I find it cu­ri­ous they call play­ers like Fo­lau an em­ployee.”

An­other spon­sor was blunt: “This is Rugby Aus­tralia’s is­sue to fix. We’ve got a busi­ness to run.”

Mean­while, the ma­jor spon- sors of the code, Qan­tas and ASICS, are be­lieved to be com­mit­ted to stick­ing with it at this point, de­spite the fact it is un­der­stood both have pri­vately ex­pressed their dis­plea­sure to RA.

How­ever, it is be­lieved the pa­tience of the ma­jor spon­sors is not in­ex­haustible if the neg­a­tive public­ity con­tin­ues.

One spon­sor that will be watched closely is the dig­i­tal part­ner of Rugby Aus­tralia and the Wal­la­bies, Ac­cen­ture. Last week, the con­sult­ing firm made

‘They don’t have any con­trol over him. Yet I find it cu­ri­ous they call play­ers like Fo­lau an em­ployee’ UN­NAMED SPON­SOR OF RUGBY AUS­TRALIA

the most pointed pub­lic com­ments by a spon­sor so far about Fo­lau’s orig­i­nal In­sta­gram post.

“En­sur­ing an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment for les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex (LGBTI) em­ploy­ees is an in­te­gral part of Ac­cen­ture’s in­clu­sion and diver­sity strat­egy,” a spokes­woman said. “We are com­mit­ted to an in­clu­sive and di­verse work­place where peo­ple feel safe to be who they are and be their best per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, and ex­pect this to be fun­da­men­tal to all our part­ners.”

Yes­ter­day, Ac­cen­ture had noth­ing to add. How­ever, it is un­der­stood Ac­cen­ture’s con­tract with Rugby Aus­tralia comes up in July, and in light of re­cent events, the com­pany is re­view­ing the ar­range­ment. Swisse also had noth­ing to add yes­ter­day but said last week: “Diver­sity and in­clu­sion are so im­por­tant in our team and to our cul­ture.”

AAP

Is­rael Fo­lau

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