Grant Chapman: Rugby Australia looms as villain in Israel Folau debacle

OPINION: Everyone loves to hate a national sporting organisation.

When things go wrong - even in the most far-flung corner of the empire - the buck inevitably stops with those that hold power at head office.

Maybe it's a jealousy thing - a tall-poppy reflex.

Maybe, in many cases, it's because those holding the power often contrive new ways to drop the ball, so to speak, with an open try-line beckoning.

So even though Israel Folau's social-media outburst last month was clearly despicable, condemning most of the human race - not just gays - to Hell, unless we repent our sins blah blah, Rugby Australia (RA) still stands a very good chance of emerging as the villain from this whole sordid affair.

Easter seems to bring out the worst in the Wallabies superstar. He made similar comments almost exactly 12 months earlier and earned the sternest of rebukes from RA chief executive Raelene Castle, who probably thought she had seen all the bone-headedness she could handle in her previous role as Canterbury Bulldogs rugby league boss.

Certainly her previous job at Netball NZ, where players barely say boo, could not have prepared her for this.

She made it pretty clear that Folau's comments had no place in an inclusive culture, and he should cease and desist immediately. That was a year ago.

Castle would have told Folau that this wasn't about his beliefs. He's quite entitled to think whatever he wants in the privacy of his own brain, but he shouldn't abuse his platform as one of Australia's premier sportsmen - almost 500,000 followers across Twitter and Instagram, magnified by media scrutiny - to force that into the public forum.

All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and his keyboard fingers still.

The embarrassment Folau has caused Rugby Australia took on a commercial edge, given that the Wallabies' principal sponsor - Qantas - has a gay chief executive. No wonder Australia's national airline is reconsidering its relationship with the code, if this is what it stands for.

That's a classic case of values not aligning.

Castle probably hoped her message had got through to Folau, but apparently it had not. RA had a chance to put its mandate into writing when it renegotiated his current contract in February.

Effectively, this week's code-of-conduct hearing saw a thorough examination of that document and whether it was worded strongly enough to enable termination.

Late Tuesday, the panel decided that, yes, Folau had committed a high-level breach, punishment to be confirmed.

Even if the document hadn't specifically covered his misuse of social media, there should still be a general 'code-of-conduct' clause about bringing the game into disrepute, which Folau had clearly done.

Raelene Castle on her way to the hearing
Raelene Castle on her way to the hearing. Photo credit: AAP

But the longer this hearing has dragged on, the more chance lawyers have had to make Rugby Australia look like the chumps.

Whatever happened to Folau walking away from his $4 million contract in defence of his principles?

Sympathisers are crying foul over a sponsor exercising so much influence on the process, but sometimes administrators still need a little financial incentive to do the right thing.

Despite his code-of-conduct loss, Folau could still appeal the decision in employment court, where his actions (and those of RA) would be assessed in a slightly different context.

But even if he somehow retains his paycheck, that doesn't mean Folau will ever be selected again.

Ah yes, the ultimate restraint of trade…

Grant Chapman is Newshub's online sports editor.

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