SYDNEY – A crowdfunding campaign by controversial Australian rugby star Israel Folau, who was sacked last month for homophobic comments, was shut down Monday over concerns about “discrimination” and “exclusion”.
Super Rugby's most prolific try-scorer, who is planning a legal battle with former employer Rugby Australia, had raised more than Aus$700,000 (US$486,000) of his Aus$3 million target from over 7,000 donors.
A search for Folau's GoFundMe webpage, set up on Friday, was met with: “We're sorry, but the campaign link you entered cannot be found.”
“Today we will be closing Israel Folau's campaign and issuing full refunds to all donors,” GoFundMe Australia regional manager Nicola Britton said in a statement. “After a routine period of evaluation, we have concluded that this campaign violates our terms of service.
“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity,” she added. “While we welcome GoFundMes engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.”
Folau, a devout Christian, was fired last month after a Rugby Australia tribunal found him guilty of “high-level” misconduct for posting on social media that “hell awaits” gay people and others he considers sinners.
He has taken the divisive issue to Australia's employment watchdog the Fair Work Commission, asserting that he simply posted a message from the Bible.
His crowdfunding campaign attracted criticism, with Australian media noting that he was one of the best-paid players in the world and owns a multi-million dollar property portfolio.
Folau was on a four-year contract worth more than Aus$1.0 million annually when he was sacked. Gay rights advocates launched a handful of other GoFundMe campaigns in response to his fundraiser.
The shutdown of his appeal came as Australia's most capped netball player lashed out at the sport for failing to sanction the star fullback's wife, a New Zealand netball international, for re-posting the GoFundMe campaign online.
Maria Folau, who plies her trade with Australia's Adelaide Thunderbirds, flagged his campaign on her Twitter feed.
Netball Australia and the Thunderbirds issued statements saying they were committed to inclusive environments within the sport, but her actions did not breach their social media polices.
Liz Ellis, a former Australian captain, said their stance was “not good enough”.
“There is no room for homophobia in our game,” she tweeted late Sunday. “Anyone who is seen to support or endorse homophobia is not welcome.
“As much as I love watching @MariaFolau play netball I do not want my sport endorsing the views of her husband.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)