Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has made an intriguing appearance at Rugby Australia (RA) headquarters in Sydney as Israel Folau fights to save his career.
Folau’s high-stakes code of conduct hearing has been running for more than four hours after the three-times John Eales Medallist was issued with a “high-level” breach notice last month.
RA chief executive Raelene Castle threatened to tear up Folau’s four-year, $4 million contract following his latest round of inflammatory social media posts.
The superstar fullback took 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.
Cheika wasn’t expected to make an appearance at the hearing, and certainly not soon.
But after saying three weeks ago that he wouldn’t be able to pick Folau for Australia again “as it stands right now”, Cheika’s sighting on Saturday raised the prospect of a possible peace offering.
Folau arrived at the landmark hearing at 9am, his Audi 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’s team was expected to 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 his direct words.
RA, being represented by Justin Gleeson SC, was expected to claim that 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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