A campaign launched by the Australian Christian Lobby to help rugby star Israel Folau wage a legal battle against Rugby Australia over his controversial firing has been paused after it raised more than $1.4 million in less than two days.
“The outpouring of support for Izzy and for freedom has been staggering in its size and speed. More than (AUS) $2 million has been raised in less than two days, from over 20,000 people,” ACL Managing Director Martyn Iles said in a statement Thursday. “This means we have raised enough money for now and can afford to hit the pause button.”
Folau joined forces with ACL after popular fundraising website GoFundMe shut down a fundraising campaign that had raised more than $500,000 in a week for the rugby star’s legal defense, according to the BBC.
Until his firing in May, Folau, an outspoken Christian, was Australia’s most popular rugby player who commanded the world’s highest salary for the sport.
He lost his four-year contract with Australia and Super Rugby team New South Wales Waratahs after he was charged with a high-level code of conduct breach for sharing a scriptural message on social media that Hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, [and] idolaters” who do not repent.
“I believe the termination of my contract is unlawful, which is why I have started legal proceedings against Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW,” Folau said in his recent appeal for help.
“…Rugby Australia have already said that they will ‘divert significant resources’ to fight me in court. Even if I win, Rugby Australia can appeal. There is every chance that a prominent test case like this could take years and eventually end up in the High Court of Australia,” he continued. “My wife Maria and I have already spent over $100,000 of our own money, and that was just to try and deal with Rugby Australia's internal tribunal processes. The money I am asking for is to fund the rest of my action in court.”
On Friday, after a failed conciliation hearing at the Fair Work Commission in Sydney, Folau said he was "very disappointed" as his lawyer said it is now likely the case will be headed to court.
"It appears as though, unless things change that we will be heading to court," Folau's solicitor, George Haros, said, according to a Reuters report.
"Very, very disappointed about the outcome today but I'd like to thank all those that have supported me throughout this time and I'll continue to stand up for the freedoms of all Australians,” Folau added.
Iles said that the fundraiser for Folau’s legal defense will be reopened in the future if necessary.
“People who have not yet donated can still pledge their support for when it is needed,” he said in his statement.
“Quiet Australians have not just spoken through this campaign – they have roared. This is an unprecedented outpouring of support which cannot be ignored. Politicians are watching, Rugby Australia is watching, corporate bullies are watching, and those who think it’s ok to make people suffer for their beliefs are watching.
“This has become a movement of quiet people who have found their voice. Many of them serve God, many of them love freedom, all of them stand with Israel Folau."