Support for Folau divides sponsors
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.”