It’s time to forgive: Wallabies champion
World Cup-winning Wallabies captain Nick Farr-Jones has urged Rugby Australia bosses to forgive Israel Folau for his controversial social media posts, saying the star footballer’s religious beliefs should not cost him his job.
Farr-Jones, who led the Wallabies to World Cup glory in 1991, has been a devout Christian for more than three decades and said if Folau was willing to apologise he should be reinstated.
“The reason a guy got hung on a cross is so we could be forgiven for our mistakes,” FarrJones told The Australian.
“I think it would be wise for Folau to come out and make a heartfelt apology and the ARU should be willing to reconcile with him and let him continue to play.”
But it seems unlikely that the star player will offer an olive branch to his employer, with RA chief executive Raelene Castle yesterday saying Folau had been “unapologetic” for his social media post — which suggested homosexuals were destined for hell — when she met him last Friday.
Folau, 30, was yesterday given 48 hours to decide his future after RA handed him an official breach of conduct notice.
Ms Castle and NSW Rugby Union chief executive Andrew Hore said the code’s integrity unit deemed that Folau’s actions warranted termination of his four-year $4 million employment contract.
“At the end of the day, Israel will make his decision on whether he chooses to accept the breach notice. But the integrity unit has recommended termination as part of that,” Ms Castle said.
Folau has previously indicated he intends to challenge the sacking and told The Australian he would stand by his faith.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika yesterday said Folau’s social media posts were not in keeping with the culture of the Wallabies, and he would not select the star player in the future as a result.
“Getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team’s about. When you play in the gold jersey, we represent everyone in Austra
lia,” Cheika said. Morgan Begg, freedom of speech research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, said RA had gone “too far” with its tendency to censor religious freedoms. “Australia has a tradition of freedom of speech and freedom of religion and we are notably moving away from that,” he said. “They’ve gone too far. If this is an accepted response it shows that there’s a loss of appreciation for those freedoms in Australian culture. It’s a destructive step to take and it has a harmful effect on religious freedoms because it’s scaring people into silence.”
Ms Castle said RA had been clear with Folau about the “implications of this type of posting” when he signed his four-year deal in February, but said there was no social media clause in his contract.
“But there was a number of meetings — documented meetings — that were put in writing, both verbally and in writing, to Israel about our expectations,” Ms Castle said.
Simon Longstaff, executive director of The Ethics Centre, said the decision to terminate Folau’s contract did not threaten his religious freedom.
“The fundamental question is whether Folau broke his word. It is not an argument of freedom of religion,” Dr Longstaff said.
“Rugby Australia has considerable rights — not to challenge the veracity of his religious beliefs, but to hold him accountable to his word.”
Dr Longstaff said that even though Folau quoted the Bible, they were considered his words.
With the World Cup just six months away, the absence of Folau — one of the Wallabies best players — will be keenly felt, according to Farr-Jones.