April saw Australian international and Super Rugby's top try scorer Israel Folau disciplined by Rugby Australia ("RA") for comments posted on social media site Instagram. Folau's multi-million dollar, 4 year contract, agreed only last year, was rescinded as a result of these comments which have raised questions concerning the balance between an individual's freedom of expression and the rights and freedoms enjoyed by others. Folau refused to apologise for his comments or delete the post.
Whilst Folau did not directly contravene any express clause of his employment contract with RA, his comments were deemed to be a high level breach of RA's Player Code of Conduct ("the Code") and RA dismissed him. Folau appealed the initial dismissal and a 3-day hearing was held before an independent panel in early May. The Panel's decision, published on 17 May, upheld RA's decision and confirmed the termination of his contract.
This situation raises concerns for governing bodies relating to the balance between freedom of expression and the ability to hold athletes accountable to the Code of their sport, and emphasises the importance of having a robust Player Code of Conduct. This was the second time Folau had been reprimanded over his comments and RA took the position that they were left with no choice but to pursue the course of action taken.
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