Sacked rugby player Israel Folau has claimed he is the victim of a ‘campaign of discrimination’ after a crowdfunding bid set up to pay for his legal costs was shut down.
The ex-fullback set up a GoFundMe last week to, after Rugby Australia (RA) terminated his contract following homophobic posts he made, enter a legal battle against the team as well as his former Super Rugby team, New South Wales Warathas.
However, this week GoFundMe pulled the campaign, and said it would refund almost A$700,000 (US $485,234.99) in donations.
In a saga stretching months, Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, was found guilty of a ‘high-level breach’ of RA’s code of conduct for posting on Instagram that Hell awaits LGBTI people.
As a result, the team tore up Folau’s four-year contract. One signed late last year and was worth a reported A$5 million
But the player took aim at the team. He took to GoFundMe to rally for A$3 million for the potentially long legal battle.
Yet, the campaign was shut down.
GoFundMe Australia’s regional manager Nicola Britton said the crowdfunding platform was ‘absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ people’ and that Folau’s campaign had breached their terms of service.
‘While we welcome GoFundMe engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion,’ Britton said in a statement on Monday.
‘Today we will be closing Israel Folau’s campaign and issuing full refunds to all donors.’
YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do??!!
— Drew Mitchell (@drew_mitchell) June 21, 2019
Within 12 hours of the launch, Folau’s campaign had raised over A$250,000 from more than 2,500 donors. However, criticism rained down on the 30-year-old on social media, including from former Wallabies team-mate Drew Mitchell.
‘Campaign of discrimination’
The company’s call was polarizing. Drawing plenty of praise from LGBTI groups but criticism from conservative Christians.
But the largest and most vocal of critics has been Folau himself.
‘There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination against Israel and his supporters,’ Folau’s spokesperson said in a statement to Rugby.com.au on Monday.
‘Further, Israel’s website has been the target of what we believe was a sustained cyberattack and there has been a deliberate attempt to vilify his wife Maria for supporting her husband.
‘While Israel does not intend to respond in detail at this time regarding the accusations thrown at him or his family, he wants it known that these attacks have hardened his resolve.’
Maria Folau critisized
The controversy even encircled Folau’s wife, netball player Maria Folau.
She heavily critisized for sharing her husband’s post about the campaign on her own Instagram page. Of which has more than 87,900 followers, and a link to the player’s website as her bio.
View this post on Instagram
#Repost @izzyfolau with @get_repost ・・・ Some people have questioned why I am putting myself, my reputation and my future on the line by taking on Rugby Australia when the easier path may have been to hide my faith. I believe what is easy is not always right. My faith is who I am and if I don’t stand up for it, what hope is there for a person of less resources who is discriminated against in the workplace? So far Maria and I have used over $100K of our savings and I am willing to do what it takes for this cause. But to continue I need to prioritise funding for my legal case. To those who believe in the right to practise religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace, here is my ask: Stand with me. I’ve put the link in my bio. If you can and choose to donate, thank you from the bottom of my heart. #standwithizzy
A post shared by MARIA FOLAU (@mariatutaia) on
Criticism puled so much that it pushed Netball SA, the governing body of the sport in South Australia state, to issue a statement. The board said she had not breached their social media policy.
‘While Netball SA in no way endorses the reposting, we do not believe Maria has contravened our social media policy,’ the governing body’s CEO Bronwyn Klei said in a statement on Sunday.