Christian players ‘muzzled’ from supporting Folau
Christian Wallabies felt muzzled by Rugby Australia during the Israel Folau saga, leading to division in the locker room before the World Cup, explosive court documents reveal.
Senior players Sekope Kepu and Samu Kerevi filed affidavits in November supporting Folau's wrongful termination legal case against RA and condemned the governing body's handling of the situation.
The Daily Telegraph understands RA settled with Folau for $3.1 million last December after his contract was terminated for posting a meme on Instagram stating that hell awaits homosexuals and other sinners.
The court documents, written by Kepu and Kerevi, obtained by The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, expose the marginalisation Pacific Islander players felt last year to the point that Kepu refused to attend a Wallabies camp in protest. Rugby Australia denies muzzling players.
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Kepu wrote: "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).
,"The Wallabies' next camp after Israel's posts in April 2019 was in around July 2019, before our Rugby Championship matches that year. I did not attend the camp. This was because I was so upset about the way in which management had handled Israel's situation that I didn't think it would be a good thing for me to attend."
Kerevi, who fronted media as Queensland captain last year, added: "It seemed to me that Israel was being sacked for simply expressing his faith. I found that very difficult to square up with the way others had been treated.
"It seemed to me that most types of conduct could easily be forgiven by management, but that conduct involving religion was different. All this made it difficult for me to counsel the more junior players in the locker room. 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."
Kepu said he was pulled from a NSW Waratahs media opportunity due to fears he might speak in Folau's favour.
However, the Waratahs' media manager at the time, Lauren Ryan, said this was not true. "I deny what has been said in the affidavit," she said, adding that Kepu had chosen not to do the media interview.
Kepu said he took his concerns about team division and the marginalisation of Christian players to RA chief Raelene Castle, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, NSW coach Daryl Gibson and captain Michael Hooper.
Kepu wrote that two weeks after the posts he met Ms Castle to tell her he feared the way Folau's situation was being handed could cause division leading into the World Cup "and that Christian Polynesians in the teams were disappointed by the actions of Rugby Australia.
"Ms Castle said that she had bit the bullet so to speak and let Israel's first 2018 post slide. She said that she needed to sort out and deal with the 2019 posts. Ms Castle stated the words to the effect of, 'Israel threw me under the bus in his 'Players' Voice' article, but I took that one and wore it'. Because of this statement, it appeared to me that Ms Castle was taking the 2019 posts personally rather than prioritising the game and the organisation."
Castle rejected the claim any player had been muzzled.
"A lot of work was done by Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby teams to provide open communication on the issue to all players throughout the matter, and when requested, counsel and advice was provided to individuals," Castle said.
"At all times the priority … was to support the players. 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 … or asked to support Rugby Australia's position regarding Israel in the media. At various times, a number of players expressed that they were not comfortable to speak publicly about the issue. Some of those were Christian players who supported Israel as an individual and friend, but did not support his comments."