An error in judgement will cost Rugby Australia dearly

Top Aussie rugby player Israel Folau was sacked by CEO Raeleen Castle solely because she mistakenly believes that Folau hates homosexuals. Her “evidence” was Folau posting a scripture on his Twitter feed saying drunkards, adulterers, liars, thieves, fornicators and other biblical sinners, as well as homosexuals, would go to hell if they did not repent. This is not something Folau takes lightly; he preaches this from the pulpit of his home church.

Castle could, and should, have handled this quite differently. Reminding ultra-sensitive gay players that Folau had not launched a personal attack on them and offering mediation for hurt feelings would have been a good start. But that wasn’t all. Apparently Folau’s comments will tip young gay men into killing themselves.

“Rugby league legend Ian Roberts, who was the first elite rugby league player in the world to come out as gay, said the comments were particularly harmful because “there are literally [gay] kids in the suburbs killing themselves … [they’re] confused, not knowing how to deal with it, these type of remarks … can and do push people over the edge.”

The Guardian

It’s a stretch to say scripture condemning homosexuality pushes gay kids over the edge, particularly when they probably give the Bible no credence at all and certainly don’t take it literally as Folau does.

Vulnerable gay youth struggling with their sexuality will not reach self-acceptance without plenty of dialogue and support. It does them no favours at all to shield them from the truth that homosexuality is not universally accepted. Roberts’s comments are patronising. Mollycoddling does nothing to promote self-acceptance; it actually hinders them from coming to terms with cultural unacceptance.

Once the media got hold of the story, there were tears on camera as fellow gays went out in sympathy for “picked on” gays. Is this really the first time they have read that scripture?

“The divisive post from one of the country’s best rugby players has blighted preparations for the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign, exposed fault lines within the dressing room, and has been the flashpoint for a national conversation about freedom of speech and bigotry, even prompting a question in the leaders’ debate ahead of this week’s federal election.”

The national drama, which looks set to drag on for months, centres on Folau, 30, a preternaturally talented player, who has competed in three codes of football in Australia: rugby league, Australian rules and rugby union. He made his international union debut for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and has since become the fourth highest try scoring Australian international player and has won the John Eales medal – Australian rugby’s top prize – a record three times. In February, he signed a $4m, four-year contract with Rugby Australia.”

The Guardian

Instead Castle started a fight with the best player Australia currently has and began a process that will undoubtedly cost Rugby Australia dearly both in potential players and in legal costs and reparation that could reach $10 million, including lost sponsorship deals.

“Sacked former Wallabies star Israel Folau has taken his case to the Fair Work Commission, saying his employment was terminated because of his religion. On Thursday Folau’s lawyers confirmed they had filed applications against Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs for breach of contract.”

They said the termination of the player’s employment was unlawful on the basis of religion under Section 772 of the Fair Work Act. He is seeking “substantial remedies” from his former employers.

The Guardian

Folau’s younger brother John, a promising junior player with the Waratahs, walked away from his contract in support of his brother’s poor treatment. How many other Bible-believing Pasifika players will follow suit, and how many others are being disincentivised to enter the game?

A grave injustice has been done and the repercussions for Rugby Australia can only get worse.