The strange and murky case of Israel Folau’s career has taken an even more confusing turn in the last week. Folau now finds himself embroiled in a cross-code international dispute about his eligibility (and indeed suitability) to represent Tonga.

At the same time as court documents from Rugby Australia appear to reveal the player admitted he breached his code of conduct and was well aware of the hurt his post may cause at the time of posting, there is an ongoing dispute between the Rugby League International Federation and National Rugby League Tonga over whether the former have ‘approved’ Folau’s right to represent for Tonga.

According to court documents filed by Rugby Australia, “before the Tribunal, Mr Folau conceded that his posts had breached the Code of Conduct, conceded that the posts had the potential to cause damage to Rugby Australia’s relationship with sponsors, and conceded that he knew, at the time of posting, that transgender and homosexual persons may have been offended by the posts.”

In the meantime, the Tongan Rugby League authorities made an announcement that stated Israel Folau had been approved by the Rugby League International Federation (RFLIF) to play for Tonga in Test matches against Great Britain and Australia in the end-of-year Oceania Cup. In a bizarre and inexplicable turn of events, the RLIF board have expressed that this is news to them.

The RLIF press release reads, “that statement [that they have approved Israel Folau’s selection for Tonga] is incorrect, the RLIF has not been formally asked to consider this matter.”

At the heart of this baffling turn of events is a dispute between Tongan chairman George Koloamatangi and RLIF chairman Nigel Wood, with Koloamatangi suggesting Wood gave his approval during a conversation they had in a hotel bar.

Whether or not that is the case has yet to be established, but the mood within the RLIF is not positive about the prospect of Folau making such a tainted and high profile return to their sport.  The Australian Rugby League Commission chairman, Peter Beattie, is a staunch critic of Folau, and previously stated Folau would be barred from a return to the NRL. Beattie is also, crucially, the deputy chairman of the RLIF.

“Our position on Israel Folau remains the same,” Beattie said earlier this summer. “We are an inclusive game with respect for all. Israel has social media posts online that go against what our game stands for.

“As it stands, he will not be considered for registration. What Israel chooses to do in relation to his social media posts and his faith is a matter for him.”

Contradictions and confusion are everywhere, then, it would seem. Folau has previously turned out for Australia’s national league side, but that is not an issue in his eligibility for Tonga (as it would be in union). It remains to be seen whether the RLIF has the power to veto Tonga’s decision to select a player who fits their eligibility criteria.

Written by Joe Ronan

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