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Clashes of Management: Rugby Australia’s Israel Folau Problem

There was no hearing, no semblance of trial. But there was swift summary judgment: Israel Folau, a star member of the Australian Rugby Union team, had been banished from the national team. There was only one problem: he was avoiding taking any calls from Rugby Australia to inform him of that fact. “For an organisation not recently known for quick and decisive action,” suggested Brett McKay, “Rugby Australia’s handling of a delicate matter has been as swift as it has been sensible.”

It was a familiar episode of institutional clumsiness, coupled with a lack of competence. Rugby Australia had evidently hardened to the man. Folau was being accused of another round of excessive zealotry. First came an Instagram post addressed to “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. While they were on route to hell, the dedicated evangelical was intent on saving them.

More was to come. Last Thursday, the Daily Telegraph revealed footage of a sermon given by Folau before churchgoers last month. “Christmas and Easter, that’s man-made,” he asserts. “For many years we were caught up in the world and thinking that celebrating Christmas was biblical, but when you read this passage you can see what God says about it.” And so he does, going through Jeremiah 10:1-5, excoriating the path of the heathen “and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the brethren are dismayed at them.”

The lack of consistency in approaching Folau’s very publicly held beliefs on homosexuality and all who deviate from the path of the righteous had previously caught the officials off guard. Now, not wishing to look weak, they decided to strike savagely. The question here is whether a code of conduct hearing will feature. According to the Rugby Union Players’ Association, “it is imperative that the proper process is followed under the code of conduct.” And given that the player’s options seem to also be closing towards other international leagues, this is probably going to happen.

This point is a simmering one, and RA must, to some extent, shoulder the blame. Rather than being removed from the boiler, the issue remained after comments made by Folau last year on Instagram that a special spot in hell was reserved for gay people. He proceeded to explain that “it was never my intention to hurt anyone with the Instagram comment”. It is also worth noting that Folau was not alone, garnering some support within the team.

Rugby Australia, then, preferred containment rather than any overtly aggressive measure. Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle described having a “calm open and honest” meeting with Folau over his use of social media. A strong warning issued. Folau could continue playing. In fact, he was given a new contract.

The inconsistent approaches of Rugby Australia have not gone unnoticed. “During the past five years (probably longer),” comments Paul Cully for the Sydney Morning Herald, “Rugby Australia has consistently rewarded those whose past behaviour was a red flag, which they have ignored.”

The broader problem here is what Folau is being punished for. Bad boys face a confused regime of sporting administrators keen to use the sporting assets at their disposal while also seeking some exalted moral high ground.

It is clear that a behavioural norm is emerging in the workplace: you are to be removed, silenced or made to disappear for holding unsavoury opinions. This is particularly problematic when it comes to a clash of rights; in this case, Folau is a fire-and-brimstone type who is unlikely to change his creed and believes, wholeheartedly, in his cause. His performance as a sportsman is not as relevant as the permitted moral code that attaches to that workplace. The result is often one of shabby treatment for the detractors from the managerial perspective.

The attempt at discarding Folau is being waged on a few fronts. Rugby Australia is citing behavioural issues with a renewed sense of purpose; elite coaching director Rod Kafer has decided to hit the player with the suggestion that he has weaknesses in the Australian squad and can be easily left out. “If we just take the Wallabies view, we’ve struggled to find actually Israel’s best position for the Wallabies.” True, he brought “some real unique characteristics” but these did not translate into being “an outstanding player” in international rugby.

While there is nothing to celebrate in the extreme views of Folau, his treatment is becoming part of a pattern that characterises modern work and how public views are aired. If only, some bureaucrats in RA are no doubt sighing, he could remain a quiet fundamentalist. And this problem might well have been approached differently. Instead of the inherent messiness of loading the weapon with a four-year-deal last year, Rugby Australia might have simply not renewed it. But then again, this would jar with another part of the RA credo: winning above all else.

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17 comments

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  1. Keitha Granville

    Pretty sure Jeremiah is OT and Jesus is most certainly NT, so Christmas didn’t exist. In any event, the Xmas he is talking about has little to no bearing at all on Christianity. Jehovas, Pentecostals, they can leave all that out if they like but keep it to yourself. And soon not use your faith as a platform to vilify anyone. He was warned once, RA has done the right thing this time

  2. HumeAndTwain

    Attempting to beat people figuratively or literally over the head with personal religious beliefs rarely if ever works in the long term for the benefit of the individual or society.

  3. Phil

    Much Ado about SFA. Who gives a flying fcuck what this dill says or thinks? he’s a rugby player FFS. Not God…Oh but wait.

    I thought it was a nice change from the reporting of players raping young women getting pissed up at night clubs and generally making arse clowns of themselves and thinking they’re above the law.

    I think I might ask my neighbour’s window cleaner Fred Snergely what he thinks about all this new exciting news in the sporting world.

  4. David1

    He was warned last year not to do it again. He ignored the terms of his employment. He did it again and he was sacked. End of story.

    PS: Phil…it matters not what sport he was involved in, he ignored the terms of his employment again.

  5. Phil

    ‘ PS: Phil…it matters not what sport he was involved in, he ignored the terms of his employment again.’

    Mate I could care less what sport he’s in, I could care less even more, what the drama Queen thinks or says.

    This prima donnas protest too much me thinks.

    His employer should have no say unless it is a direct problem financially for his club, in what this player says.

    Btw I don’t like homophobes, but we still have unless you libel someone, free speech in this country. Besides not that I would do it here, but it gives me great opportunity on other forums to rubbish this God bothering zealot.

  6. Kaye Lee

    He was risking sponsorship so it was most definitely a potential financial problem. Qantas get very upset about homophobia.

    Qantas, who threatened to pull their sponsorship with the Wallabies last year following a series of similarly provocative posts from Folau, echoed the disappointment of RA and NSW Rugby.

    “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support,” a Qantas statement to AAP said. “We are pleased to see Rugby Australia’s condemnation of the comments and will await the outcome of their review.”

    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.

    He signed the contract. He broke the contract. Mind you, I do think RA should have held off their public statement until they had spoken to him.

  7. Phil

    ‘He was risking sponsorship so it was most definitely a potential financial problem. Qantas get very upset about homophobia.

    I don’t think he should lose his job.

    It is selective. There is a list of racists, homophobes, mysoginists as long as your leg in the government who have had less attention than this creep.

  8. Kaye Lee

    Of course. It was not the worst thing a footballer has ever done. Look at what was said by politicians during the marriage equality debate.

    I think twitter is a very dangerous thing for some people.

  9. Alcibiades

    When one first read his post, seven out of Folau’s eight ahem ‘points’, immediately brought to mind … Barnaby ‘Caarp!’ Joyce …

  10. Terence Mills

    I think the comments made by Peter Fitzsimons were spot on.

    Freedom of speech is fine and we all support his right to hold and express his views BUT there are consequences in the workplace and if an employer has already laid the groundrules then Folau needs to understand, as we all do when we are employees, that we risk losing our jobs if we flout the rules.

    Then again, if you are looking to exit a four year contract to take up a lucrative overseas offer, that’s one way of doing it.

  11. king1394

    Hang on, this comment by a footballer is nothing compared to the bile of several of our prominent politicians and broadcasters. I don’t even think it is especially homophobic. It covers a multitude of sinners including thieves and liars. He equally condemns almost all of us and offers hope if we repent. That sounds like most religions to me. Is it offensive to mention hell perhaps, or is adultery an accusation that might be too close to home for many. Let the man do what he does best and play football and lets not bothervto take his religiius views so seriously.

  12. paul walter

    Is Folau married with kids?

    If so, it begs the question,

    ” What will become of the children of Israel”?

    If he is a unique talent but merely a footy player bought up as a tropical version of bush baptism, with little understanding of the nuances of crit theory and modern pomo political philosophy, I do not think they will be eager to sack a potential match winner.

    He will probably understand that this may be a good time to “clam up” and leave the gloomy Jeremiads in a dusty web-tangled attic where they perhaps belong, if not, who can say what will become of him and his in the clouded future.

    Now, I am a devotee of the “Southern code”; have just watched StKilda toss the Hawks, so I do confess that my understandings of the esoterica of mobile wrestling are somewhat limited.

  13. Kaye Lee

    His wife is a professional netball player. I don’t think they have kids yet. I doubt she wants to give up her career to head to Japan or Europe.

  14. wam

    A trial where his point of view is aired wouldn’t that be a precedent???

    This is the freedom of religion masking beliefs that should be discussed in the open.. Does the god of the jews, christians and muslims want to punish gays with hell when, arguably, he created them?

    ps with you paul, I am an aerial pingpong not the run throw and fall over.and filau made a quid out of both.

  15. paul walter

    wam, do you see Kaye Lee trolling me for a bite concerning Israel’s intimate married life?

    Personally, I am surprised he did not marry a nice island girl rather than some uppity city slicker.

  16. paul walter

    Wait a mo, just reading about this somewhere else, he has had contracts ripped up etc. Apparently has “previous” involving hard conservative moralistics.

  17. New England Cocky

    @Alcibiades: Folau took umbrage with “Drunks Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators and Thieves” which some politics skeptics would say accurately describes the National$ representative in New England.

    VOTE ANYONE BUT NAT$ & IMPROVE FEDERAL PARLIAMENT

    @Kaye Lee; QANTAS CEO Paddy Joyce is a well know supporter of LGBTQI causes, and has demonstrated his ability to use his corporate position to “encourage” others to “re-think” their positions on those causes.

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