Loophole could save Folau’s millions
TWO contract technicalities reportedly leave Rugby Australia exposed to an Israel Folau legal threat.
With Folau and Rugby Australia (RA) headed for a bitter legal showdown, The Australian on Saturday reported two legal loopholes could force the governing body to back down on its determination to terminate the controversial star's reported $4 million, four-year contract.
Folau met RA chief executive Raelene Castle on Friday, with neither party backing down in a feud that has threatened to turn ugly.
Now, the Rugby Union Players' Association has come to Folau's defence, stressing the star remains an employee of Ra and is continuing to fulfil his contractual obligations.
The players' representatives released a statement on Friday night stressing Folau's case must be "followed under the code of conduct".
The Australian reports Folau will be armed with two legal loopholes up his sleeve should RA follow through with its publicly declared intent to sack the former NRL star and AFL player.
The Australian's Wayne Smith reports Folau and his management privately believe RA's handling of his dismissal may not stand up in court.
Folau's team, led by player agent Isaac Moses, will reportedly attack the seven-paragraph statement RA first issued in response to Folau's Instagram post. In that statement the governing body indicated it was their intention to terminate Folau's contract - before any mention of a code of conduct hearing.
It reportedly leaves RA exposed if Folau can successfully argue he was denied fair process by being denied the chance to defend himself in front of the RA board of directors before the decision was made to rip up his contract.
The same report claims Folau's team will also consider attacking the clause in Folau's contract that RA is using as grounds for his expected termination.
Folau's new contract, signed in October, reportedly included a social media clause that would allow rugby bosses to sack him if he was found to have posted any further offensive material on social media following his initial attack on homosexuals last year when he publicly stood against same sex marriage.
The players' association claims the social media clause may violate the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed between the players and RA.
RUPA claims, under the terms of the CBA, that "the only additional clauses that can be inserted into a standard player contract are those that are beneficial or potentially beneficial to the player".
RUPA reportedly claims it was not aware of the clause's existence when Folau signed his contract in October.
The grey area could leave RA needing to pay out Folau's full four-year contract through to the end of the 2022 season in a similar train wreck situation to the one that had Quade Cooper paid out his full $600,000 contract for the Queensland Reds last year despite being exiled to play in Brisbane's club rugby competition.
Folau maintained a stony silence on Friday after earlier holding crisis talks with his camp.
Supported by his professional netballer wife Maria, the three-time John Eales Medallist spent the morning at a Sydney cafe with Rugby Union Players' Association boss Prataal Raj and another RUPA representative, plotting Folau's next move.
He refused to talk when approached by a TV reporter, but it's understood Folau told Raj he wanted to observe his right to challenge RA's planned sacking at a code of conduct hearing.
Rugby Australia later released a telling joint statement with the NSW Waratahs.
"Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged," it said.
"Following today's meeting, the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps."
On Friday evening, the NSW Rugby Union doubled down with its own statement, saying Folau had been stood down.
"NSW Rugby Union has stood down Israel Folau from all player duties with the NSW Waratahs until further notice."
On Thursday night, RA and NSW Rugby said Castle had been unable to "directly contact" Folau to advise him of her intention to terminate his contract.
Castle later took to Twitter to clarify that she'd been in "in constant contact" with Folau's manager Isaac Moses in the 24 hours since his latest social media attacks on homosexuals as well as "drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters", who Folau said were all destined for hell.
"He (Moses) did reach Israel, however I was unable to speak with him," Castle tweeted.
"In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract."
Beyond his fierce commitment to his faith, it remains a mystery as to what motivated Folau to continue his social media outbursts after being warned last year to express his views in a "respectful" manner.
It would seem incomprehensible that the code-hopping ace would risk his career - and the opportunity to win a World Cup this year with the Wallabies - if he didn't have another playing option.
But with ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie slamming the door shut on Folau attempting to return to the NRL, it appears a move overseas - or retirement - will be his only options if unsuccessful in any appeal against RA's intention to cut him free.
Beattie said the former Test and State of Origin rugby league star had failed "the NRL's inclusiveness culture".
Folau's spectacular fall from grace even had the Prime Minister weighing in on Friday.
"I thought they were terribly insensitive comments and, obviously, that was a matter for the ARU and they've taken that decision," Scott Morrison said.
"It is important that people act with love, care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians."
Sport Australia boss Kate Palmer commended Rugby Australia's strong stance against discrimination and vilification and urged all sports to follow suit.
But former Wallabies coach Alan Jones slammed RA's threat to sack Folau, saying the decision had "completely corrupted" free speech in Australia.
If this truly is the end of the road for Israel Folau in Australian rugby, his car crash-style exit will have been as swift and spectacular as his rise was meteoric.
- with AAP