Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne has criticised Israel Folau after the governing body and the player failed to settle their dispute on Friday.
Clyne revealed that corporate sponsors and the state and federal government would have deserted rugby in Australia if they hadn’t sacked Folau after his controversial social media comments.
Clyne’s comments were made after settlement negotiations broke down between Rugby Australia and Folau in Sydney on Friday. That paves the way for the 30-year-old former Wallabies and Waratahs star to lodge an unlawful termination claim in Australia’s Federal Court.
Clyne said the prospect of a drawn out court battle was a “painful” one for the game in Australia, but stood by his organisation’s decision to sack Folau as the alternative would have been bad for them.
“[The alternative] would be that we’d have no sponsors at all because no sponsor has indicated they would be willing to be associated with social media posts of that sort and that includes government, because we’ve also heard from them,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We would also potentially be in litigation with employees who are gay and who would say we’re not providing a work place that is safe or respectful.”
Rugby Australia receives federal and state funding at various levels of the game.
Folau made an appearance on Alan Jones’s Sky News show on Thursday and claimed that he was offered money to take down his offending Instagram post. Rugby Australia are strongly refuting that allegation.
Clyne said he is still hopeful that a protracted legal battle can be avoided.
“We’ve been open to [a mediated solution] from the get go but there’s obviously two different perspectives on that,” he said in reference to Folau rejecting Rugby Australia’s previous overtures.
“We are looking at it from the good of the game as a whole. No one is suggesting this is helpful but I would go back to Israel Folau’s comments from last year when he said if it was hurting the game he’d walk away for the good of the game.
“Since this issue has emerged I’ve asked those who’ve said we should have taken a different response to suggest what that alternative was and so far no one has been able to do that.
“But to those who are saying you should bankrupt the game and allow religious freedom, well we do allow religious freedom but what we don’t allow is disparagement and that’s clear under [Folau’s] contract.”
.@smh: @RugbyAU's chairman Cameron Clyne says sponsors would have deserted the game if they hadn't sacked Israel Folau.
MORE: https://t.co/tyxIk8GVkJ #TheFrontPage pic.twitter.com/yCJWcVvXly
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) June 28, 2019
Clyne also strongly defended the governing body’s position in response to Folau’s demands for an apology and an admission from Rugby Australia that his multi-million dollar contract was torn up because of his religion.
“I’m not sure exactly what we’re apologising for, I don’t quite understand that request,” he said.
“We’ve provided a player with opportunities and asked him to adhere to a contract and a generous one at that. Israel was not sacked for his religion, he was sacked for a breach of his contract.”
Clyne also accused Folau’s camp of misrepresenting the facts.
“What is frustrating is that as the governing body we have a long term obligation to protect the integrity of the game, which means we have to play by the rules,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of people misrepresenting facts, or deliberately ignoring them, you’ve got soft ball PR interviews with blatant misrepresentations, but that’s not the game we can play.
“We’ve never given up on mediation, we’ve made many attempts, but we’ve also got to remember that this is bigger than Israel Folau, we have a duty to every other professional and community player in the game. We can’t accept a scenario where contracts become arbitrary.”