Israel Folau. | Photo: Twitter/@izzyfolau
A rugby fan has set up a GoFundMe to out-earn a crowdfund by rugby union star, Israel Folau.
The ‘More funds that Folau’ counter fundraiser was set up with the tagline ‘Israel Folau’s intolerance will not be tolerated’.
Folau has experienced widespread backlash for sharing religious-themed anti-LGBTI sentiments on social media. This includes posts which state that homosexuals are destined for hell.
The former Australia international and New South Wales Waratahs player was fired by governing body, Rugby Australia, for his actions. His GoFundMe page is seeking AUS$3 million (US$2,076,000/€1,836,000) in donations to cover legal fees to challenge his former employers.
The counter GoFundMe page was set up by UK-based rugby fan, Robbie Owen.
Owen credits himself as the creator of YouTube channel, Squidge Rugby. The channel provides news and commentary on international rugby games.
In just over two days, Owen’s counter GoFundMe had accrued close to AUS$6,000 (US$4,159/€3,649) from over 350 donors.
Owen stated he did not expect to reach his AUS$3 million target, but merely hoped his crowd-sourcing would out-earn Folau’s.
‘Intolerance such as his will never be tolerated in rugby’
In the counter GoFundMe page’s description, Owen states Folau’s sentiments go against the inherent values at the core of rugby.
‘Rugby regularly labels itself as an inclusive sport, one that supports people from all walks of life,’ the description states.
‘The money [from Owen’s crow-fund] will be going to a good cause, and it’ll send the message once and for all: If he wants to continue to use his profile and platform to preach hate, Israel Folau picked the wrong sport, because intolerance such as his will never be tolerated in rugby.’
Owen described Rugby Australia’s decision to suspend Folau as a ‘landmark moment’. He said this showed that even one of the sport’s highest-profile players would face consequences for ‘betraying the core inclusive values of the game’.
‘Ignored in all this legal bother […] are the individuals who may have been made to feel, with such a high-profile player spouting such bile, that they were not a part of the rugby community, that they were not welcome, when nothing could be further from the case,’ he adds.
However, Owen’s counter fundraiser has a lot of catching up to do. Since launching just before midnight on Thursday (20 June), Folau’s crowdfunding page has seen an influx of donations.
It currently stands at around AUS$660,000 (US$457,512/€401,484) from over 8,500 donors. This includes a single donation of AUS$10,000 from one individual.
A number of commentators have criticized Folau – who was one of the highest paid players in Australian rugby – for his decision to ask public donations.
Some have also noted that Folau is not obliged to spend all of the crowd-sourced money on his legal fees.
Spreading homophobia on social media
While a talented rugby player, Folau had courted increasing controversy in recent years over the amount of religious-themed homophobic sentiments he had shared on social media.
In April 2018, Folau wrote that God’s plan for gay people is would be ‘HELL. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God,’ in an Instagram post.
In April this year, Folau also tweeted a photo of a news story about Tasmania passing historic new gender laws whereby recording gender markers on birth certificates will be optional. In the tweet alongside the photo, the rugby star wrote: ‘The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.’
The final straw for his employers came in the same month after Folau shared a picture of a religious-themed poster which stated ‘Hell awaits’ homosexuals and other sinners.
Rugby Australia tore up Folau’s contract – which was worth AUS$1.0 million (US$700,000) annually – in May. He was also dropped from sponsorship deals.
Despite the backlash, Folau has refused to back down. He claims he was simply following his sincerely held Christian beliefs.
Earlier this week, Folau held a sermon at his church where he claimed that support for trans children. He also called homosexuality a ‘sin’ during the sermon.
Folau has since begun legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against Rugby Australia and is seeking up to $10 million in damages. He released a video on 20 June explaining his legal action and asking for donations.
Though raised a Mormon, Folau has been an active member of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship since 2011, a global coalition of churches with around 70 million members.