Israel Folau has begun legal action in an attempt to make a playing comeback in Australia this weekend.
Solicitor Sam Iskander, from Brisbane law firm Alexander Law, says he has received instructions from the former dual-code international to act for him against the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) on the basis of discrimination and denying the opportunity to practice his profession.
Folau found himself in limbo after the QRL blocked his attempt to sign for Southport Tigers because his registration is still held by Catalans Dragons, who say the door remains open for him to return to Super League.
The 31-year-old dual-code international was given permission by the Dragons to remain in Australia at the start of the 2021 season in order to deal with pressing family matters and were shocked to discover his attempt to sign for his local club.
Iskander claims Folau’s contract is no longer valid and believes the QRL has no right to impose restrictions in the event of the player eventually being cleared to play locally.
Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 over homophobic comments he posted on social media but signed for the Dragons on a short-term deal ahead of the 2020 season, extending it to the end of 2021 later that year.
What did Israel Folau say?
In 2019, Folau posted on social media claiming “hell awaits” gay people.
He posted on Instagram: “Warning – Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters. HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES”.
On Twitter he added: “The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free,” with a screen shot of the Tasmanian headline.
He has since said that he has “absolutely” no regrets over the posts.
What did Israel Folau say about Australian bushfires?
In November 2019, Folau hit the headlines again with his comments about the bushfires raging in Australia, blaming the crisis on same-sex marriage and abortion.
Speaking at his local church, Folau said: “They’ve legalised same-sex marriage … which is going against the laws that God says... Abortion – it’s OK now to murder and kill infants, unborn children – and they deem that to be OK. Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things they’ve come in a short period of time – you think it’s a coincidence or not?
“What you see out there in the world – it’s only a little taste of what God’s judgment is like. The news is saying these bushfires are the worst we’ve ever seen in Australia – they haven’t seen anything. God is speaking to us. Speaking to you to repent and to turn away from this.”
What has Israel Folau’s lawyer said?
“All Israel Folau wants to do is play football and be treated like any other person,” Mr Iskander said in a statement. “His application for registration with the QRL is being dealt with differently to anyone else who has ever sought registration for the Southport Tigers.
“Mr Folau’s now repudiated contract agreement with Catalans has nothing to do with the QRL.
“The QRL is not a party to it and has no rights under it. Likewise, the QRL has no right to discriminate against a player or seek to disadvantage such a player.
“Never before have we seen a QRL condition put on a player where the player has to give up representative honours and selection. They are also seeking a condition that my client can only play for the Southport Tigers.
“The QRL is effectively seeking to destroy Israel’s professional aspirations. Why is this being done to Israel Folau?” he said.
Iskander said the action against the QRL would also include individuals of the QRL board who cause his client losses, who would be pursued separately through the courts.
He added: “Israel Folau loves his wife and son, he doesn’t do drugs, drink or smoke. He hasn’t been subject to any criminal offences; he hasn’t assaulted any women. He doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone.
“Why then is Israel being discriminated against when has never transgressed?
“He has a release from his former club the Brisbane Broncos and needs to be on the field this weekend.
“My client’s instructions are clear. No matter how long or whatever the cost, he will receive justice and freedom to practice his religious beliefs.
“He simply is the best rugby player in the world. The QRL must be brought to account for their jealousy and misguided understanding of their obligations.”