Israel Folau has claimed that he is the victim of a “campaign of discrimination” after a crowdfunding campaign set up to pay for his legal costs was shut down.
The ex-Australian national rugby player was hoping to raise A$3million to pay for his legal battle with Rugby Australia and Rugby New South Wales, after he was sacked for telling gay people that “hell awaits” them.
Folau had received about A$760,000 in donations, but these will now be returned after GoFundMe decided that the page violated its policy on Monday (June 24).
“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity,” spokeswoman Nicola Britton said in a statement given to the BBC.
“While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.”
Israel Folau victim of ‘discrimination’
Folau has accused GoFundMe of “buckling to demands against the freedom of Australians to donate to his cause.”
“There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination against Israel and his supporters,” Folau’s representatives said in a statement to Rugby.com.au on Monday (June 24).
“Further, Israel’s website has been the target of what we believe was a sustained cyberattack and there has been a deliberate attempt to vilify his wife Maria for supporting her husband.
“There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination.”
“While Israel does not intend to respond in detail at this time regarding the accusations thrown at him or his family, he wants it known that these attacks have hardened his resolve.”
Israel and Maria Folau criticised
Folau’s wife, netball player Maria Folau, had been criticised for sharing Israel’s post about the campaign on her own Instagram page.
In the post, the couple claimed to have spent A$100,000 of their own money on legal fees dealing with Rugby Australia’s internal tribunal processes.
Netball South Australia has confirmed that Maria will not be reprimanded for promoting the crowdfunder, but has distanced itself from the campaign.
“While Netball SA in no way endorses the reposting, we do not believe Maria has contravened our social media policy,” the governing body’s CEO Bronwyn Klei said in a statement on Sunday (June 23).
YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do??!!
— Drew Mitchell (@drew_mitchell) June 21, 2019
For his part, Folau was criticised by his former Wallabies teammate Drew Mitchell who tweeted on Friday (June 21): “YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do??!!
“It’s no longer about religion, it’s about YOU and YOUR greed.”
Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle told Australia’s Nine News that he thought the campaign was inappropriate.
“From our perspective (Go Fund Me) is a place where sick children get support, so it’s certainly not a strategy we think is appropriate,” he said on Saturday (June 22).
Israel Folau sacked for anti-LGBT Instagram post
Folau was fired from the Australian national team and from the Wallabies after sharing an anti-LGBT message on Instagram.
On April 10 he wrote on the social network: “Those that are living in sin will end up in hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
Writing on his crowdfunding page, Folau explained: “Earlier this year, I uploaded some messages from the Bible on my Instagram page. I believe that sharing the Bible is an act of love and compassion.”
Disgraced former rugby player Israel Folau is seeking donations to fight his dismissal by Rugby Australia (YouTube)
Rugby Australia and New South Wales Rugby issued a statement on April 11 confirming that they intended to terminate Folau’s contract.
“Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport,” a statement said. “We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.”
Following this initial statement, Folau was officially let go on May 17 after a hearing in front of a three-person panel.