Israel Folau ask his supporters for cash donations in a YouTube video (Image: YouTube)
A fundraising effort by Australian rugby star, Israel Folau, who was last month sacked over his anti-gay rants, has been shut down.
The former Australia international and New South Wales Waratahs player was seeking AUS$3 million (US$2,076,000/€1,836,000) in donations on platform GoFundMe to cover legal fees to challenge his former employers.
The sport’s governing body, Rugby Australia, fired Folau for breach of contract last month.
His lucrative four-year contract was worth AUS$1.0 million (US$700,000) annually.
Folau, 30, a devout Christian and a millionaire, posted an image to social media in April that said ‘hell awaits homosexuals’.
He refused to apologize for the statement, saying he was merely voicing his Christian beliefs.
In the ensuing controversy, Folau lost sponsorship deals. He was also dropped by his Super Rugby team, New South Wales Waratahs, and governing body, Rugby Australia.
GoFundMe Australia on Monday (24 June) said ‘As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity’.
‘While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion’ a spokesperson said.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) June 24, 2019
The page had reportedly reached AUS$700,000 as of Monday. All donations will be refunded.
Earlier this month, lawyers for Folau said the player had lodged a complaint with Australia’s Fair Work Commission.
‘The applications were filed against both Rugby Australia Ltd. and Waratahs Rugby Pty Ltd. confirming the rugby star’s intent to seek a declaration that his employment was unlawfully terminated because of his religion,’ said lawyers in a statement.
‘Under section 772 of the Fair Work Act it is unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion.’
‘No Australian of any faith should be fired for practicing their religion,’ said Folau in the statement.
‘The messages of support we have received over these difficult few weeks have made me realise there are many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded.’
His lawyers also said the player wants substantial damages.
‘The termination of Mr Folau’s employment contract prevented him from playing at the peak of his career and on the cusp of a Rugby World Cup, which would have likely generated even greater exposure and opportunities’ said his lawyers.
‘Accordingly, Mr Folau is seeking substantial remedies from his former employers.’
Sydney Morning Herald reported the player is seeking Aus$10 million – a sum that it speculates could bankrupt Rugby Australia were it to lose the case.
Rugby Australia, meanwhile, maintained Folau clearly breached the code of conduct he signed in their contract.
‘This is an issue of an employee and his obligations to his employers within the contract that he signed. He was bound by a code of conduct for all professional players in Australia that spells out clear guidelines and obligations regarding player behavior, including respectful use of social media.’