Israel Folau has hit out at Rugby Australia officials and offered to walk away from his lucrative contract so as not to bring the game into disrepute after he made anti-gay slurs on social media.
The Australian full back penned a lengthy opinion piece for the website Players Voice, published on Monday, in which he claimed he was misrepresented over comments he made during his meeting with Rugby Australia last week.
Folau held crisis talks with rugby bosses Raelene Castle and Andrew Hore last Tuesday, after he published a series of anti-gay slurs on his Instagram page and told his followers gay people are destined for “hell unless they repent their sins and turn to God”. Folau is a Christian and regularly posts images and quotes online relating to his faith.
However, he says his views weren’t accurately portrayed in a press conference Castle and Hore held shortly after their meeting and that although he never intended “to hurt anyone” he could “never shy away from who I am, or what I believe”.
He said he understands the bosses have to run a business, and must cater to sponsors, but added: “After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”
He then launched into an in-depth explanation, attempting to defend his controversial views before insisting he didn’t want to ever have to leave the sport he loves.
“There have been things written about me angling to get a release from my Rugby Australia deal to pursue an NRL contract. That simply isn’t true. There have been rugby offers from the UK, Europe and Japan that are way above anything I could earn in Australia,” he wrote.
“This is not about money or bargaining power or contracts. It’s about what I believe in and never compromising that, because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be.’’
Rugby Australia held a press conference shortly after their meeting with Folau, and said his offensive posts were at odds with the code’s inclusion policy.
“I felt Raelene misrepresented my position and my comments, and did so to appease other people, which is an issue I need to discuss with her and others at Rugby Australia,” Folau wrote.
“I love rugby union. It has allowed me to travel all over the world and meet some fascinating people along the way. It is one of the best things about the game in my opinion.
“I do not want to bring hurt to the game and want as many people playing it as possible, so when I spoke to Raelene about walking away, it was to help the game, not harm it, in the event we couldn’t come to an understanding. Anyone who knows me knows I am not the type to upset people intentionally.”
The furore sparked by Folau’s homophobic comments has sparked widespread debate across the country with Rugby Australia struggling to determine whether he should the punished for his views or if they must be tolerated under freedom of speech and religious freedom laws.
Initially, there were calls for him to remove the offending messages after major Rugby sponsors, including Qantas who CEO Alan Joyce is openly gay, expressed their disappointment.
A Qantas spokesperson previously told Starts at 60 the company wasn’t comfortable with Folau’s discriminative views.
“As a sponsor of Rugby Australia, we’re supportive of their approach towards tolerance and inclusion, which aligns with our own,” they said. “We’ve made it clear to Rugby Australia that we find the comments very disappointing.”
Shortly after the meeting, Castle told reporters Rugby Australia had agreed to continue its dialogue with Folau.
While Folau has defended his comments, he’s also insisted he’s not homophobic.
“I believe in inclusion. In my heart, I know I do not have any phobia towards anyone,” he added. “Every individual in this world is different and we have all experienced things that have shaped us in unique ways.”