Israel Folau’s social media accounts vanish ahead of court hearing

Israel Folau leaves a code of conduct hearing in Sydney in May following his sacking by Rugby Australia over homophobic comments. (AFP pic)

SYDNEY: Fallen rugby star Israel Folau’s social media accounts, which he used to promote the homophobic comments that got him sacked, disappeared Monday on the eve of a court hearing into his dismissal.

The former Wallaby launched legal action against Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs earlier this month, demanding an apology, compensation and the right to play again after he was fired.

A largely administrative directions hearing is scheduled at the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne on Tuesday, where lawyers from each side will discuss the next steps in the case.

The devoutly Christian Folau has previously refused to remove the offending online post that “hell awaits” gay people and others he considers sinners.

But on the eve of the hearing both his Instagram and Twitter accounts were no longer active.

“This account doesn’t exist,” said a message on his Twitter handle, while his Instagram account read: “Sorry, this page isn’t available”.

His Facebook account is still available but hasn’t been updated since last year.

Folau’s spokesman said he had no immediate comment.

Super Rugby’s record try-scorer, who was on a A$1 million-a-year (US$690,000), four-year contract, was fired by Rugby Australia in May.

Folau opted not to appeal and mediation attempts failed, prompting him to take the highly divisive unfair dismissal case, which has drawn support from conservatives and outrage elsewhere, to the courts.

Folau, who has played 73 times for the Wallabies, raised more than A$2 million in just two days through the Australian Christian Lobby to help pay his legal fees before the appeal was paused, with enough money “for now”.

It replaced a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign that was shut down after raising more than A$700,000, with the platform saying it would not “tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion”.

Folau’s claim argues he was unlawfully dismissed under a section of Australia’s Fair Work Act that disallows sackings because of a person’s religion.

Rugby Australia has insisted the firing was purely contractual, saying he had agreed not to disparage anyone over their sexual orientation following a similar controversy last year.