Israel Folau and Rugby Australia have finally reached a confidential settlement, including a written apology to each other over Israel Folau’s anti-gay religious views. Folau’s journey over the past 8 months has been filled with ups and downs.
Initially, the drama highlighted the hypocrisy of Folau, Rugby Australia and the media (https://thelevinelowdown.com/2019/04/20/israel-folau-the-revolving-door-of-hypocrisy/). Folau said that he would walk away from his contract if he ever felt he was hurting Rugby Australia. Clearly, he did not act on these words. Moreover, Rugby Australia created a huge deal over a relatively small issue, when players with severe criminal backgrounds had been previously allowed to play again. This hypocrisy posed the discussion between freedom of expression or discrimination. It blurred these lines, and this has led to the government debating new religious discrimination legislation.
Then, the decision was made to sack Israel Folau (https://thelevinelowdown.com/2019/05/17/israel-folau-sacked/). His lucrative four-year, 4-million-dollar contract was terminated by Rugby Australia due to Folau’s breach of his contract. Folau was confined by an agreement which limited his freedom of speech and resulted in him being sacked. However, this aspect of Folau’s journey raised the critical question of where is the line for other athletes? Could other athletes who post their views online also receive a similar punishment? This illustrates that individuals must be given the freedom to state what they believe and express their opinions on religion without censorship.
Throughout the saga, Folau’s religious interpretation has also come under the microscope. He has created a divide within the religious and non-religious community through his skewed religious perspectives, causing further damage, especially to the communities currently affected by bushfires. Folau went on to increase his claim from $10 million to $14 million due to his belief that he lost the chance to captain the Australian side. These consistent negative instances have slowly dismantled Folau’s reputation and have caused further damage.
Regardless, now is the end of the road for Israel Folau. It is unlikely he will ever play professional rugby or rugby league in Australia, and due to his tarnished reputation, any international possibilities could be limited.
So what can we learn from this 8-month saga?
We need to start thinking about our religious discrimination legislation. Is it acceptable to express religious views online? Is it discriminatory? Personally, I believe individuals need to be able to express their opinion on religious matters. This is an essential aspect of freedom of speech, and it must not be taken away. However, laws need to be put in place to ensure inclusivity and that steps are being towards equality. Is this balance possible? I would hope so, but we will have to wait and see.
Israel Folau played a phenomenal game of rugby, however; the scores were even at the end of full time. Unfortunately, extra time was a disaster. Folau consistently dropped the ball, conceded penalties and deserted his team, resulting in the game being lost. This is the end of Israel Folau. Now it is time for Australia and Rugby Australia to regroup, start training again and proudly walk onto the field for the next game.
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