Folau's code of conduct hearing begins
Sydney - A
divisive code of conduct hearing kicked off on Saturday as Israel Folau
challenged Rugby Australia's intention to tear up his lucrative contract
over homophobic comments, with experts warning of a protracted legal
The devoutly religious Folau was informed last month of plans to
terminate his multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal after he posted on
social media that "hell awaits" gay people.
It followed a similar row last year, when he escaped with a warning.
This time Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union made clear they
have had enough, issuing him with a "high-level" breach notice under the
player code of conduct.
Super Rugby's all-time record try scorer and one of the sport's
highest-profile players opted to challenge it through a tribunal.
The hearing started in Sydney with Folau and Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle making no comment as they entered.
Sunday has been reserved as an extra day should it be needed.
Submissions and evidence from both sides will be heard behind closed
doors by a three-member panel chaired by John West, an employment law
expert and senior counsel.
It will then decide what punishment, if any, is appropriate - ranging from a fine to a suspension or the sack.
Either way, Rugby Australia has said a decision is not expected this weekend.
Legal experts said the case would almost certainly go to an appeal
whichever way it went, and then potentially to the courts for a lengthy,
and costly, fight that could set a precedent for how much control
sporting bodies have over athletes' public pronouncements
Giuseppe Carabetta, an employment law expert at the University of
Sydney's Business School, described the case as a "perfect storm of
conflicting religious, corporate sponsorship and moral issues".
"The Folau case may eventually involve not only RA's code of conduct
but also aspects of contract law, anti-discrimination laws and employee
rights under the Fair Work Act," said Carabetta.
"The case may well have a very long way to run."
Folau is set to argue that Rugby Australia did not include a specific
social media clause in the four-year contract he signed in February and
his posts were merely passages from the Bible and not directly his
The governing body is expected to counter that even if there is no
clause, he seriously breached its broader code of conduct policy and its
The player is likely to argue that rugby's "inclusion for all" should also take into account strong religious beliefs.
The controversy has overshadowed Australia's World Cup preparations,
with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika vowing not to select Folau over his
Others in the Wallabies camp have also criticised Folau but some,
particularly from Pacific Islands backgrounds, have reportedly been
angered because they feel their religion is under attack.