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A simple solution to the Folau dilemma

Israel Folau has to choose between rugby and league - what if he didn't? (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
9th May, 2018
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3510 Reads

So, it happened again. As many predicted, Israel Folau has shared some contentious religious views via social media and the spotlight has been shone brightly on Rugby Australia and Raelene Castle.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a huge amount of debate about the topic and how RA should respond.

Do they punish him? Do they let it go until Alan Joyce kicks up a fuss? Do they stay very still and hope that Tim Paine takes a razor blade onto the field and the media’s attention moves on?

People have claimed that there’s nothing that could be done or should be done. Folau has a right to say what he feels and while many, including RA, might not agree with the specific message, they respect his right to say it.

Others are saying that Folau’s tweet is offensive and hate-filled and should be met with a harsh punishment from RA, no matter how big a talent he is.

Over the past day, I’ve been trying to think about what Castle should do. Her words on Wednesday were diplomatic and measured, as she sensibly looked to buy time to consider a response and maybe ask herself why on Earth she said yes to the CEO gig.

Raelene Castle at a Rugby Australia press conference

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

But the answer seems pretty straightforward.

My assumption is that Folau’s contract with RA is made up of different elements. One of those elements is likely to be for his actual rugby playing and all that entails – training, camps, travel, matches etc.

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Other elements will include his work as an ambassador and marketing asset for RA and brands that sponsor the Wallabies – Qantas, for example.

RA have made it clear that they respect Folau’s right to have his views and communicate them to others. They have also made it clear that they think differently to him on some of those views.

Therefore, RA can say, “We respect and value you as a player. We want you to continue to be a Wallaby and we will pay you in return for your efforts on the rugby side of things.

“However, your views on some key topics are different to our brands’ views and the views of some of our sponsors on those same topics. Therefore you will no longer be asked to be part of or paid for being part of RA or the Wallabies’ media, marketing and brand activities.”

Israel Folau Australia Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup Wallabies 2017

Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

This seems a sensible way to strike the balance. RA can respect Folau’s right to his views, allow him to continue to play rugby for Australia if he wants to, and he’d be well paid for doing so as he is a great talent.

But they can also make it clear that there is a significant misalignment between each parties’ views on important matters and therefore it would be inappropriate to ask and reward Folau to represent RA and the Wallabies in media and marketing activities.

As long as he treats his fellow players with respect and his performance in training and on the field does not drop, let the guy play and pay him for it. But when it comes to being paid primarily for being an ambassador and extension of the RA brand, Folau doesn’t seem to fit any longer, because of his views.

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That’s fine. RA don’t need to tell him he’s wrong for having those views, they don’t need to try and stop him from sharing them in his own time on his own channels. But they can say “your views are not aligned with ours and for our marketing we need alignment”.

This approach also means they don’t need to punish Folau for past actions, but rather renegotiate his remuneration to better fit the role he will be taking on.

There has been talk about how important Folau is to the Wallabies, especially with the World Cup just over a year away. But as gets said all the time when scandals about high-profile individuals hit sports, the game is bigger than just one person.

The decisions that Castle and RA make are not about protecting Folau’s rights to say what he wants to say – that’s the government’s job. RA and Castle need to make sure that they are protecting and promoting the game of rugby in Australia, and they can do that while also respecting Folau’s choice to say what he believes.

This approach is not perfect, however it ticks a lot of boxes and is at least RA doing something rather than waiting on some other scandal to hijack the spotlight.