New fund for Folau crosses $1m mark

MELBOURNE • A fresh fund-raising drive for rugby full-back Israel Folau to contest his sacking in court has surpassed A$1.5 million (S$1.42 million) after it was launched by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) yesterday.

Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, is seeking to raise A$3 million to help fund his legal action against Rugby Australia (RA) and the New South Wales Waratahs Super Rugby team.

The 30-year-old had his four-year deal torn up, worth a reported A$5 million, when he was found guilty of a "high-level breach" of RA's code of conduct after posting on his social media pages that "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals and adulterers".

His initial fund-raising effort on GoFundMe was shut down on Monday after the crowdfunding platform expressed its support of "LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) inclusivity", before claiming the Australian had breached its terms and conditions. The A$750,000 generated in three days will be refunded to donors.

But the new drive hosted by the lobby on its website exceeded those funds in a few hours yesterday. Confirming that he had spoken to Folau about his case, ACL managing director Martyn Iles also pledged A$100,000 towards his court fees "because it's right and it sets an important legal precedent".

Earlier this month, Super Rugby's all-time record try scorer (60) began legal proceedings against RA and the Waratahs at the Fair Work Commission (FWC), an industrial relations tribunal, casting the action as the pursuit of his "right to religious freedom".

He is seeking A$10 million in damages for lost sponsorship and marketing opportunities among other reasons.

As the money rolled in yesterday, there was also renewed focus on Folau's wife, Maria, a high-profile netball international.

The New Zealand vice-captain, who plays for the Adelaide Thunderbirds in Australia's Super Netball, has come under fire for sharing a post on social media relating to his fund-raising drive.

The team on Sunday released a statement saying that although they in no way endorsed the repost, Maria had not contravened their social media policy.

Netball New Zealand also cleared her of a breach of their policies in a statement yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2019, with the headline 'New fund for Folau crosses $1m mark'. Print Edition | Subscribe