Folau cash boost

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 26 Jun 2019

A Christian group crowdfunded more than A$l million (HK$5.44 million) in a single day for former Australian rugby star Israel Folau's legal battle to appeal against his sacking over homophobic comments.

The Australian Christian Lobby stepped in to host Folau's fundraising appeal after his original online appeal for cash was shut down over concerns it was discriminatory.

That had attracted widespread criticism, with Australian media noting he was one of the best-paid players in the world and owned a multi-million dollar property portfolio.

The ACL website said yesterday that by it had raised A$1.044 million of its A$30 million goal for Folau's legal battle with former employer Rugby Australia.

The 30-year-old, a devout Christian, was sacked by the governing body last month for posting anti-gay comments on Instagram.

ACL's managing director Martyn Iles said the group also donated A$100,000 of its own funds towards Folau's cause "because it's right and it sets an important legal precedent".

"Many Australians want to support Izzy Folau because they feel his case is their case and they can help make a difference and show him he is not alone."

Folau initially set up his appeal on GoFundMe, saying he was standing up for freedom of speech and religion by fighting his sacking for posting that "hell awaits" gay people and others he considers sinners.

The appeal had raised more than A$700,000 before GoFundMe pulled it on Monday, saying the platform would not "tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion".

Folau was fired last month after a Rugby Australia tribunal found him guilty of "high-level" misconduct over his social media posts.

He has taken his case to Australia's employment watchdog, the Fair Work Commission, asserting that he simply posted sentiments from the Bible.

The issue has revived debate about the clash between the right to freedom of religious expression and restrictions on hate speech.

Folau is seeking A$10 million in damages, including for lost sponsorship and marketing opportunities. He was on a four-year contract worth more than A$1 million annually when he was sacked.

Netball New Zealand, meanwhile, said it would not be taking action against Folau's wife, Maria, for supporting his fundraising efforts.

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