Rugby Australia (RA) has denied offering Israel Folau money to take down his controversial Instagram post after the Wallabies outcast made the explosive claim in his first public interview since the scandal broke.
Folau was sacked for a code of conduct breach when he posted on social media gay people would go to hell. He has since moved to take legal action against RA for wrongful termination and added fuel to the fire by starting a GoFundMe page that was later removed, only to be replaced by a fundraising initiative launched by the Australian Christian Lobby that has so far raised more than $2.2 million.
Speaking to Alan Jones on Sky News on Thursday night, Folau said he wants an apology from RA so he can continue his career and claimed his religious faith is "who I am". He also said the governing body offered him money to take down his original Instagram post — an accusation RA has rejected.
"Following comments made on Alan Jones' television show tonight, any suggestion that Rugby Australia offered Israel Folau money to remove a post made on April 10, 2019, is completely untrue," RA said in a statement.
The denial comes as Folau and his legal team prepare to meet with Rugby Australia and its lawyers at a conciliation meeting at the Fair Work Commission today. If the parties can't reach an agreement, there will then be a hearing with the Commission with the possibility of the case going to the Federal Court after that.
Earlier on Thursday RA chief Raelene Castle spoke for the first time since the furore erupted over Folau's GoFundMe saga.
"Rugby Australia has acted with complete professionalism and integrity at all times through the process by which Israel was found, by an independent three-member tribunal panel, to have made multiple, serious breaches of the Professional Players Code of Conduct," Castle's statement read.
"The panel found the breaches constituted a high level and directed Rugby Australia to terminate Israel's contract."
Folau wants an admission from RA it was "wrong" to sack him and reiterated once again his views are not personal but rather are dictated to him by the bible, and come from a place of love.
In his interview, the 30-year-old also compared gay people to drug addicts, saying: "I can certainly see it from both sides. If I had a child who was a drug addict I would still love my child without anything attached to that."
The comparison was not well received on Twitter.
Folau said he and his wife Maria – who was dragged into the scandal after directing people to the footy star's fundraising efforts on her own social media channels – have been going through a tough time but thanked the "amazing" support he's received from the public and those close to him.
On the criticism of his wife, Folau said: "She's been dragged into this situation unexpectedly and it's been very frustrating for her. I'm lucky she's a strong woman and same as me, convicted by her faith."
"It's been a very, very tough time for myself, Maria and our families over the past couple of weeks," he told Alan Jones and Peta Credlin on Thursday night.
"But, we're holding up really strong and the support from the general public and those who are close to us has been amazing."
He said his faith is the most important thing to him and it shapes every aspect of his life.
"My identity is founded by what's written in that book," he said. "It's who I am and how I conduct myself every day."
Jones then asked him how he felt about the criticism of his now-infamous social media posts.
"Look, the Bible and what I believe comes out of that is very important to me and, as a Christian, I believe it's my duty to be able to share that and that's part of who I am and what my purpose is," he said.
He also claimed his social media message was one of love.
"It comes from a place of love and it's certainly nothing personal," he said.
"I can certainly see it from both sides. If I had a child who was a drug addict I would still love my child without anything attached to that," he said.
Folau told Jones he believed his relationship with his Wallabies teammates was still strong, particularly those of Pacific Islander heritage, some of whom he claims share the same beliefs as him.
"They can totally understand where I'm coming from and why I'm sharing what I'm sharing," he said.
Folau's interview aired on the day NSW Rugby Union chairman Roger Davis called for Folau and RA to settle their dispute outside the courtroom.
"You can die for a principle or be pragmatic. No one is going to win here," Davis said, per the Sydney Morning Herald.
"It is in the best interests of the game to mediate a solution to this, but it will require both sides to move off their preferred position.
"We understand the sensitivities that everyone has but we would hope there is a pragmatic solution here that respects every side of the debate."
Shortly before Folau appeared on TV on Thursday, Australian celebrity Magda Szubanski took to Instagram to give an update on how her rival campaign is travelling. After Folau launched his GoFundMe page, Szubanski started one in opposition called For Love, which is comprised of people from different religious backgrounds and LGBTQI people and is raising money for charity.
The initiative has raised upwards of $200,000.