Laurence Wilkinson

Israel Folau’s sacking and the right to freedom of expression

Australian rugby player Israel Folau has lost his AUS$4m mega-contract for an Instagram post he published in April after a disciplinary tribunal found that his comments were grievous enough to end his rugby career. The three person panel had found that Folau had committed a ‘high level breach’ of the code of conduct, and has today upheld Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate his contract.

Folau has serious rugby credentials; he is the joint-third highest try scorer of all time for Australia, and has won the Australian Rugby ‘Player of the Year’ award a record three times in 2014, 2015 and 2017. He is about as gifted as it gets on the rugby field – the Cristiano Ronaldo of world rugby if you will. He even has a street named after him in the town where he played junior rugby. But he will no longer be appearing for his provincial team (the New South Wales Waratahs) as their season reaches its climax, and he is out of the Australian national team in a World Cup year. All because of an Instagram post.

For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the post, Folau posted a photograph that essentially summarises a bible passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, stating that ‘hell awaits’ drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators. He accompanied the photo with text that read: ‘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’, which was followed by further bible verses.

The post appeared on April 10, and on April 11, Rugby Australia (the national governing body) stated their intention to terminate his contract, saying that while Folau was entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which they had been expressed were ‘inconsistent with the values of the sport’.

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