Israel Folau’s camp has hit out against GoFundMe’s decision to shut down his online fund raising campaign, claiming there is a campaign of discrimination against the former Wallabies star and his followers.
Folau launched his appeal for $3 million on Friday and had raised more than $750,000 within four days.
But the fundraising platform said on Monday it was pulling the campaign and issuing full refunds to the more than 7000 donors.
“After a routine period of evaluation, we have concluded that this campaign violates our terms of service,” GoFundMe Australia’s regional manager Nicola Britton said in a statement.
“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity. While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.”
Folau wanted money to fund his legal battle against Rugby Australia, which terminated his $4 million contract in May after he posted a biblical passage on social media stating that hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” unless they repented.
A spokesman for Folau said the decision to cancel the campaign was very disappointing.
The campaign was in line with GoFundMe’s terms and conditions, as well as all relevant rules and regulations, the spokesman said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, GoFundMe has buckled to demands against the freedom of Australians to donate to his cause,” the spokesman said.
“There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination against Israel and his supporters.”
Since launching the appeal, Folau and his supporters have come under “intense scrutiny in the media”, the spokesman said.
It’s believed Folau’s website was the target of a “sustained cyber attack” and there has been a “deliberate attempt to vilify” his wife Maria – who re-posted her husband’s online campaign – for supporting Folau.
These attacks have “hardened his resolve”, the spokesman said.
“Thankfully, several organisations have already expressed interest in supporting Israel’s efforts to raise money for his ongoing legal case.”
Folau has launched legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against Rugby Australia and is seeking up to $10 million in damages.
Folau is very grateful to the donors who “believed in good faith that their donations would contribute to his case against Rugby Australia”, the spokesman said on Monday.
More than 95,000 people had signed an online petition calling on GoFundMe to take down Folau’s page, noting its purpose was against the website’s terms and conditions.
Former Wallabies teammate Drew Mitchell, who previously slammed Folau’s decision to ask for public donations, suggested that Folau supporters pledge their refunded donations to other causes.
One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham, who defended Folau in his maiden speech to parliament earlier this year, suggested GoFundMe’s decision was an “excessive use of corporate power”.
“During the SSM campaign, Lefties scoffed when I said the absence of Religious Freedom Protections would lead to a reign of terror against Christians. In all aspects of the Folau matter, it’s easy to see what’s happening,” he tweeted.
When asked about the closure of Folau’s account on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “I think that the issue has had enough oxygen.”
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