‘There are kids killing themselves’
The first Australian NRL player to publicly come out as gay has issued an emotional plea to Israel Folau as the Wallabies star fights to save his rugby career.
Folau's code of conduct hearing continues today as Rugby Australia tries to justify its intent to sack him and tear up the 30-year-old's four-year, $4 million contract after his homophobic Instagram post last month.
The hearing is taking place amid reports from The Sunday Telegraph RA offered Folau a $1 million peace offering earlier in the week to walk away from his deal - an offer which was rejected.
Speaking on Channel 9's Sports Sunday program, ex-footy star Ian Roberts delivered a heartfelt message to Folau about the tragic truth of the beliefs he's spreading.
"I feel sorry for Israel but there are consequences to your actions," Roberts said.
"I don't say this lightly and what I'm about to say, the language I use, is hard and it's for a point, it's to get that message across.
"There are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves and I say that with the greatest sense of respect and I'm not saying that Israel is responsible solely for that.
"But it's these types of comments and these types of off-the-cuff remarks when you have young people and vulnerable people who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it.
"These types of remarks can and do push people over the edge."
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Roberts added that freedom of religion doesn't allow freedom to vilify and said using that excuse or hiding behind "freedom of expression" is like "playing the victim".
"There can't be any tolerance of bigotry," he said.
Daily Telegraph sports reporter David Riccio floated a couple of possibilities about what the $1 million offer may mean, saying it could suggest Folau is confident of winning and RA is not.
"What I found interesting is it's either one of two things. One, it's a sign maybe Rugby Australia are a little bit nervous it may end up losing the case and may want to settle," he said.
"On the flip side, it's the money hungry Israel Folau wanting his $4 million deal, not $1 million and he believes he's got a pretty good fight to win the case."
Riccio's fellow TV panellist and former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis also suggested the offer may be part of RA's long term plan to appease stakeholders if the governing body isn't successful in sacking Folau.
"I started to think about this with the $1 million offer knowing that Israel Folau likes to earn a lot of money, mad if he doesn't and he supports his family with that, there is absolutely nothing against it," Ellis said.
"Perhaps they (RA) knew he would reject it.
"So then you start to think long term. Can they go back, hand on heart, to their fans and stakeholders and say, 'We tried to sack him, we offered $1 million to get rid of him, we lost the case, we can't afford to pay him out completely, so we might just pick him anyway'."
However, former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons denied that would be the case and said whatever the outcome of the code of conduct hearing, there's no way Folau can play for Australia again because he's lost the trust of the dressing room.
FOLAU HEARING CONTINUES
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika made an intriguing appearance at RA headquarters on Saturday as Folau fought to save his career after being issued with a "high- level" breach notice last month.
Cheika wasn't expected at the hearing, but cut a conspicuous figure driving out of the RA car park early on Saturday afternoon.
After saying three weeks ago that he wouldn't be able to pick Folau for Australia again "as it stands right now", Cheika's latest sighting raised the prospect of a possible peace offering. Cheika, Folau and Castle all provided oral evidence and no more witnesses are expected to be called upon on Sunday.
Folau arrived at the hearing at 9am, his Audi piercing a posse of TV cameras, photographers and reporters as it made its way through to the underground car park.
The three-times John Eales Medallist departed, smiling, at 5.30pm after his high-profile solicitor Ramy Quatami and leading barrister Adam Casselden spent the entire day pleading Folau's case against having his contract ripped up.
Folau's team was expected to argue that RA did not include a specific social media clause in his new contract and that his posts were merely passages from the Bible and not his direct words.
Justin Gleeson SC is heading up RA's case and likely to contend that Folau had seriously breached not only the governing body's code of conduct policy but also its inclusion policy.
The three-person panel comprising of chair John West QC, RA representative Kate Eastman SC and the Rugby Union Players' Association-elected John Boultbee return to RA headquarters on Sunday as one of the most significant legal battles in Australian sport's history continues.
Folau will also attend after it was initially thought he would not be required. RA maintains the panel will not deliver a decision until next week after mulling over all evidence from both parties.
If the tribunal determines that Folau has in fact breached his contract, the panel must then decide if the breach was severe enough to terminate his career. Both Folau and Rugby Australia will have until 72 hours after any decision is handed down to appeal.
They may appeal because of an error of law; or it's deemed the decision was unreasonable or insupportable having regard to the evidence on which it was based; and/or that the penalty imposed was manifestly inadequate or unjust.
Employment law experts predict the case could drag on for months and even years if a settlement isn't reached and the matter winds up in the courts.
With Darren Walton, AAP