Israel Folau’s high-stakes code of conduct hearing is underway at Rugby Australia headquarters in Sydney.
But it’s most unlikely to be D-Day with the landmark case tipped to drag on for weeks – and possibly months or even years if the matter ends up before the courts.
Folau is fighting to save his career after RA chief executive Raelene Castle issued the three-times John Eales Medallist with a “high-level” breach notice last month and threatened to tear up his four-year, $4 million contract following his latest round of inflammatory social media posts.
Folau arrived at Saturday’s hearing bang on 9am, his car piercing a posse of TV cameras, photographers and reporters as it made its way through to the underground car park.
The dual international is being represented by high-profile solicitor Ramy Quatami and barrister Adam Casselden, who recently worked on the coronial inquest into the murder-suicide of Sydney family Maria Lutz and her children Ellie and Martin at the hands of their father Fernando Manrique in 2016.
Castle, along with NSW Waratahs supremo Andrew Hore, arrived shortly after, casually walking past the press pack and through the main entrance of the Rugby Australia building.
Sunday has also been reserved should the three-person panel of chair John West QC, RA representative Kate Eastman SC and the Rugby Union Players’ Association-elected John Boultbee require further deliberations on what shapes as one of the most significant legal battles in Australian sport’s history.
Either way, RA has already declared the panel is not expected to deliver a decision on the weekend.
A final verdict could in fact take months or even years to reach, according to an employment law expert.
“There may be some kind of settlement between the parties,” said Giuseppe Carabetta, from the University of Sydney Business School, who described the complex case as a “perfect storm of conflicting religious, corporate sponsorship and moral issues”.
“But if it does end up in the ordinary courts such as the federal court, potentially, those matters can take months or even a couple of years.”
Folau, 30, copped his breach notice for taking to Instagram to proclaim “hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators” unless they repent and turn to Jesus.
He had been warned last year following a similar post claiming gays were destined for hell, before signing a rich contract extension in October.
Folau’s team will argue that RA did not include a specific social media clause in his new contract and that his posts were merely passages from the Bible and not directly his words.
RA, to be represented by Justin Gleeson SC, is expected to argue, regardless of no such apparent clause, Folau seriously breached the governing body’s broader code of conduct policy and its inclusion policy.
If the tribunal determines that Folau has in fact breached his contract, the panel must then decide if the breach was severe enough to terminate his career.
The losing party will have until 72 hours after any decision is handed down to appeal.
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