MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A fresh fundraising drive for sacked Australia fullback Israel Folau quickly hit the A$1 million (£546,209) mark in donations after it was launched by a Christian lobby on Tuesday.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, is seeking to raise A$3 million to help fund his legal action against Rugby Australia and his Super Rugby team, the New South Wales Waratahs, as he fights his termination in court.
The 30-year-old was sacked after being found guilty of a ‘high-level breach’ of Rugby Australia’s code of conduct after he posted on social media that hell awaits ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers’ and other groups.
His initial fundraising effort on the GoFundMe website was shut down on Monday by the crowdfunding platform, which said it supported ‘LGBTI inclusivity’ and he had breached its terms and conditions.
Folau had generated over A$750,000 in three days on the platform but all of it would be refunded to donors, the website said on Monday.
A new drive hosted by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) had recouped those forgone funds in a few hours on Tuesday.
ACL managing director Martyn Iles said he had spoken to Folau about his case and also pledged A$100,000 for his legal action “because it’s right and it sets an important legal precedent”.
Folau announced earlier this month that he had begun legal proceedings against RA and the Waratahs at the Fair Work Commission (FWC), an industrial relations tribunal, casting the action as the pursuit of his ‘right to religious freedom’.
The four-year contract, signed late last year, was worth a reported A$5 million.
As the money rolled in on Tuesday, there was renewed focus in the local media on Folau’s wife Maria, a high-profile netball international.
The New Zealander, who plays for the Adelaide Thunderbirds in Australia’s Super Netball, has come under fire for sharing a post on social media relating to Folau’s fund-raising drive.
The Thunderbirds on Sunday released a statement saying that although they in no way endorsed the reposting, Folau had not contravened their social media policy.
Netball New Zealand, which used to be run by current Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, also cleared her of a breach of their policies in a statement on Tuesday.
“We acknowledge that people have differing views and beliefs,” it read. “It is important those opinions and views are expressed in constructive and respectful ways.”
Folau, New Zealand’s vice captain, is one of the most feared shooters in netball and will be a key member of her country’s team at her fourth World Cup in Liverpool, England next month.
Reporting by Ian Ransom/Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly/Peter Rutherford