Right or wrong, political or religious, what Israel Folau has done, and appears driven to continue to do, by making his action against Rugby Australia about religion, has obviously excluded a certain category (or categories) of sponsors and commercial partners.
In the past week, the majority of the criticism from the public is centred around Folau’s plea to raise $3 million, despite amassing millions of dollars during his career to go along with an extensive property portfolio.
Award-winning digital agency, G Squared, has provided some interesting insights from an online social listening platform to support this argument.
“The data shows the conversations have been overwhelmingly negative and a lot of conversation has come from over overseas, which shows the impact this has had not just in Australia but globally,” G Squared Director, Strategy & Performance, George Photios said to Ministry of Sport.
However, with Folau’s GoFundMe page shut down and the Christian Lobby Groups new fundraising page amassing $1.5 million in just over 24 hours, it suggests some Australians fully support what Folau is doing.
Israel’s wife and Adelaide Thunderbirds player, Maria Folau, shared her husband’s social media post about raising money for his legal battles and has subsequently forced Netball officials to become involved in the saga as well.
Australian journalist, Tracey Holmes, told Ministry of Sport the two governing bodies, of Rugby Australia and Netball South Australia, have handled the situations very differently.
“Netball South Australia and The Adelaide Thunderbirds, who employ Maria Folau, released a statement saying she has not breached their social media policy by sharing her husband’s post asking for donations.”
“They also point out they don’t support the post itself, but the league as a whole is focused on providing an inclusive environment that allows anyone to play netball regardless of gender, religious belief, age, race or sexual orientation,” Holmes said.
“Rugby Australia has effectively the same policies yet the two sports have reached very different outcomes.
Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, says claims he was responsible for ordering Israel Folau’s sacking are “outrageous” while at the same time reiterating that the airline was supportive of Rugby Australia’s decision to tear up Folau’s contract.
“We sponsor organisations and sports teams to get a positive benefit out of it,” Joyce said.
“When it becomes controversial, we, of course, want the sporting code to fix those issues.
“Israel’s comments were terrible for a large element of the community, a vulnerable element of the community.
“We felt that was causing controversy for our sponsorship and as a consequence, we asked Rugby Australia ‘what are you doing to make sure we’re not involved in controversy?’”
ANZ bank, One of Netball New Zealand’s major sponsors, has also raised concerns about Folau’s support for her husband.
“We do not support the views of Silver Fern Maria Folau and have made our views known to her employer Netball NZ,” ANZ media manager, Stefan Herrick, said in a statement.
Tracey Holmes added: “It is great for corporations to stand by a set of moral values and take the ethical high ground, but let’s not forget that it wasn’t that long ago that the ANZ bank was part of a royal commission into industry practices which was scathing in its findings.”
“Likewise, Qantas has a codeshare arrangement reportedly worth $80 million a year with Emirates Airlines, a UAE Owned airline, where homosexuality is illegal and can still be punished by death.”
Folau has already lost his personal sponsors in luxury car brand Landrover and Japanese sportswear company Asics, but, Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia (DCA), was asked by B&T whether sporting sponsors needed to take a harder stance when it came to continuing their sponsorship of sporting stars who exhibit discriminatory.
“That’s a decision for every brand to make but I will say this: if you want to position yourself as a progressive organisation that is inclusive, and if you want to appeal to people who have a sense of tolerance and social justice, then I do think it’s important [that brands take a harder stance].”
If Folau does win this battle against Rugby Australia, the question will then be asked – what do the sporting codes major sponsors do?