The Federal Government wants to pass a bill that would protect Israel Folau if he repeated his controversial comments. And it has sporting bodies worried.
The Federal Government wants to pass a bill that would protect Israel Folau if he repeated his controversial comments. And it has sporting bodies worried.

Sporting codes unite against ‘Folau Bill’

Australia's major sporting codes have united to voice their disapproval over a government bill that would leave them powerless in the event of another Israel Folau case.

Under the Federal Government's draft proposal for new religious discrimination laws, sports would not be able to stop athletes from expressing their religious beliefs outside work.

That is unless they could prove an athlete's views would cause "unjustifiable financial hardship''.

As members of The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMMS), the NRL, AFL, Cricket Australia, Football Federation Australia, Netball Australia, Tennis Australia and Rugby Australia are fighting against what some have described as the "Israel Folau Bill".

Former Wallaby Israel Folau settled his dispute with Rugby Australia out of court. Picture: AAP
Former Wallaby Israel Folau settled his dispute with Rugby Australia out of court. Picture: AAP

It is understood that a submission was filed last week from COMMS to the Attorney-General which demanded changes to the draft bill that would ultimately protect its brand, not weaken it.

The Australian Paralympic Committee is also opposed to elements of the draft bill and has joined COMMS to file concerns over the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, which the government wants to implement this year.

The draft bill would make it illegal for sporting codes, or any other business with a revenue of at least $50 million a year, to limit religious expression regarding dress, appearance or behaviour.

If a sporting code imposed a restriction, it would have to prove it was necessary to "avoid unjustifiable financial hardship on the business".

 

Folau has signed a deal with French rugby league club Catalans Dragons. Picture: AP
Folau has signed a deal with French rugby league club Catalans Dragons. Picture: AP

Folau's contract was terminated by Rugby Australia in May last year after he posted on social media that homosexuals, among others, would go to hell.

He then took legal action against Rugby Australia, demanding $14 million in compensation and an apology for what he claimed was unlawful dismissal.

Rugby Australia was forced to apologise to Folau as part of a confidential settlement with the former Wallabies star.

Under the new bill, Folau would be protected if he repeated his social media comments.

Which is why, after winning his settlement from Rugby Australia, Folau stepped up pressure on the federal government to strengthen religious freedom, which the proposed new bill has addressed.

"You can see why a lot of the bigger sports are worried about it and where it's going to go,'' a source said.

The NRL was planning to detail its joint pursuit for changes to the bill during a two-day conference which began in Perth on Thursday.

 

 



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