The lucrative four-year, 4-million-dollar contract has been terminated by Rugby Australia today. Israel Folau had been found guilty of a “high level” breach of his contract and today’s decision has bought an end to the ongoing saga…for now (an appeal by Israel Folau on religious grounds is possible within the next 72 hours).
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle commented on the matter today stating, “Rugby Australia did not choose to be in this situation, but Rugby Australia’s position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue this course of action”.
Legally, this decision is fair. A panel of John West QC, Kate Eastman SC and John Boultbee AM have considered the case and the possible breach of contract over the past few weeks. To reach this decision highlights that Israel Folau breached his contract. Therefore, as his employer, Rugby Australia has the right to terminate his contract.
However, a more significant issue now arises. Where is the line for other athletes? This decision has the possibility of setting a dangerous precedent for future cases involving athletes or other high-profile individuals proclaiming their religious beliefs online. Individuals must be given the freedom to state what they believe and express their views on religion without censorship. This is a fundamental right, and this decision today needs to be a warning of the consequences of limiting the speech of an individual. Not only has Rugby nationally and internationally lost one of its most exceptional talents, but the career and reputation of Israel Folau has also been destroyed.
Israel Folau was confined by a contract which limited his freedom of speech, but future contracts don’t have to contain this same requirement. This decision needs to set a precedent, not of terminating contracts of athletes but allowing for the expression of religious beliefs. Otherwise, Israel Folau won’t be the only talent we lose in the sporting world, and he won’t be the only person to have their career shattered by an online post.
The one quality that has been illustrated by both sides throughout this period is integrity. Rugby Australia has stood firm with their principles highlighted by Raelene Castle further commenting “We want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game”. Moreover, Israel Folau has not been afraid to stand up for what he believes in, acknowledging the possible consequences of his actions.
So what happens now? Israel Folau has 72 hours to appeal. Will his hypocrisy continue (https://thelevinelowdown.com/2019/04/20/israel-folau-the-revolving-door-of-hypocrisy/)? Or will his integrity take centre stage?
The rugby game may be over, but we are now entering extra-time.