This week, Australian Full-Back, Israel Folau has provided further problems for Rugby Australia, by increasing his compensation demands after being sacked by the governing body for homophobic and transphobic remarks made on social media in May.
Folau’s initial compensation bid was on the basis that the termination of his contract accounted to religious discrimination. Now, the Australian is asking for A$14m – up from A$10m – on the grounds of the claim that he would have become captain of the international side.
Previously one of the nation’s highest-paid athletes, this represents the continuation of an ongoing PR nightmare that Folau poses to Australian rugby. After the initial comments in May in which he suggested “Hell awaits” gay people in a post on Instagram, Folau has more recently been criticised for blaming Australia’s laws on abortion and same-sex marriage were to blame for this month’s bushfire crisis. Remarks which caused such disgust amongst Australians that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was compelled to comment, labelling Folau as “appallingly insensitive.”
Folau’s disgusting comments, and the international publicity they have garnered represents just another hurdle in what’s been a difficult couple of months for the Wallabies and Rugby Australia.
After being convincingly beaten 40-16 in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup and losing head coach Michael Cheika after five years in charge of the Wallabies, in the last 24 hours, Raelene Castle – chief of Rugby Australia – has written to World Rugby apologising for the behaviour of the staff and the players at this year’s World Cup.
Reportedly, this letter was specifically apologising for Cheika’s reaction to Reece Hodge’s three-week suspension after a tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato, and for the Australia coach’s “us against them” attitude.
This represents the potential deepening of the rift between Rugby Australia and the Wallabies, as Cheika had previously confirmed the breakdown of a working relationship between him and the governing body.
“I think it’s no secret that I’ve pretty much got no relationship with the CEO and not much with the chairman,” the 52-year-old had said less than 24 hours after their Quarter Final defeat.
This public apology, a disharmony with the national side and now the added media pressure of Folau’s increased compensation bid, Rugby Australia are in danger of having the wheels fall off.
With the growing influence and appeal of money from foreign leagues, RA will need to get the players and the fans back on side if they are going to rebuild for the 2023 World Cup.
By Will Sewell.