Folau case: Rugby Australia 'muzzled' Christian players

Polynesian players were kept away from the media by Rugby Australia (RA), for fear they would comment on Israel Folau’s social media posts about homosexuality. The Australian‘s Jamie Pandaram has published court documents showing that key players Sekope Kepu and Samu Kerevi were actively discouraged from speaking out in support of Folau.

Pandaram also reveals that Folau was paid $3.1m in his settlement with Rugby Australia.

“I took it to mean he had made his comments … because the management had wanted him to do so.” – Sekope Kepu

“Immediately after Israel was stood down, players started coming to me and asking questions what was going on,” Kepu wrote in an affidavit in support of Folau’s court case. “A lot of the boys of faith (those I knew to be Christian) told me they were disappointed by the way the situation was being handled and what other players were saying in the media.

“I felt the same. Straight away I remember seeing media reports of quotes of players that were supportive of Rugby Australia’s side of the dispute.”

He gives the example of Michael Hooper, the Wallabies’ and Waratahs’ captain,  saying “it makes it hard to take the field alongside” Folau.

The Kepu affidavit attaches a copy of a press release from RA making clear it was the source of the Hooper quote. Kepu describes a conversation with Hooper in which the captain says he “felt under the pump” to speak the way he did. “I took it to mean he had made his comments … because the management had wanted him to do so.”

Kepu writes that the RA media mangement team then stood him down from the “Captain’s run”, a regular player’s media conference. “My perception was that the media was briefed to approach people who would toe the ‘anti-Israel’ line and were discouraged from approaching potential Israel’s supporters (including Christian players),” Kepu wrote.

Kerevi also experienced younger Christian players coming to him after Folau’s second post. “Each of them told me they were concerned they could be sacked for expressing their beliefs, or quoting the Bible  on social media …”

“I found the situation very difficult to explain to those younger players who came to me because there have been other occasions where other serious misconduct by sportsmen have not been punished in the way Israel has been punished.

“At the time I wanted to support Israel publicly.” – Samu Kerevi

“It seemed to me Israel was being sacked for simply expressing his faith …”

“At the time I wanted to support Israel publicly. I couldn’t because the players (including me) were told by management not to comment on the issue to the media or the public. It was then very disappointing to me when I saw other players and coaches speak publicly in support of Rugby Australia’s position.

“My perception based on discussion with some of the other Christian players was that this double-standard did not help the situation in the locker room.”

Pandaram reports an RA response: ““We wrote to all players to remind them of their obligations under the code of conduct and our social media policy, but no player was prevented from speaking about the issue, or asked to support Rugby Australia’s position regarding Israel in the media.”

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