February 26, 2020 / 8:17 AM / in a month

Australia boss denies Wallabies players gagged in Folau saga

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rugby Australia (RA) chief executive Raelene Castle has defended the governing body’s handling of the Israel Folau affair after comments from Christian Wallabies players that they were discouraged from publicly supporting their sacked teammate.

Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi and former prop Sekope Kepu filed affidavits in November in support of Folau’s unlawful termination case against RA, which was settled out of court.

After Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, was fired for posting a meme on social media that said hell awaits “homosexuals” and other groups, former Queensland Reds captain Kerevi said he and other players were warned not to comment on the issue.

“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,” Kerevi said in court documents obtained by News Ltd media.

Kepu said he had boycotted a Wallabies training camp in July because he was “so upset about the way in which management had handled Israel’s situation”.

“I didn’t think it would be a good thing for me to attend,” he said.

Kepu added that prayer groups between Christian players had stopped after Folau’s sacking.

“There is no doubt to me that the Wallabies would have gone further in the 2019 Rugby World Cup had Israel been on the team (because of) his influence both on and off the field,” Kepu said of the team’s quarter-final exit from Japan.

Castle said RA had no involvement in stopping prayer meetings and all players were given an opportunity to express their views.

“I’m so insulted that people think that would be acceptable behaviour for Rugby Australia,” she told reporters at a business breakfast in Sydney on Wednesday.

“I’m on public record saying I’m proud of the fact that Israel was a strongly Christian man and was proud of his faith and expressed it as such.

“But he made a comment that was insulting.

“I felt we engaged as widely as possible on what was a very difficult issue and (the players) were given opportunities to speak both privately and publicly.”

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Robert Birsel

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