SYDNEY, May 9 (Reuters) - Israel Folau’s negotiation over a new Rugby Australia contract looks like being a protracted process accompanied by the usual interest from other quarters but complicated this time by his insistence on standing by his religious beliefs.
As a former rugby league international who spent a couple of years playing top flight Australian Rules, the 29-year-old outside back is by far the best known rugby union player in a country where the other two football codes rule the roost.
After five successful seasons, though, Folau’s contract will be up at the end of the year and Rugby Australia will be desperate to get him to extend at least through next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The rugby league media pack has never fathomed why Folau, or anyone, would turn his back on their game so he is linked to a return to the National Rugby League at every contract renegotiation.
Wealthy European and Japanese union clubs are always circling, while on Tuesday there was a report in the Daily Telegraph that Folau had discussed a move back to Brisbane, where he grew up, with the coach of the Queensland Reds.
The New South Wales Waratahs will be hoping that report was a false lead as they look to secure the services of a player whose athletic ability is most often described as “freakish”.
His social media postings have brought wider issues into the equation, though — the latest coming on Twitter on Tuesday which linked to an 11-minute sermon from the late Christian evangelist David Wilkerson.
It included a warning from the American against young people being “seduced” into “tolerance” towards same-sex marriage, recalling for some Folau’s comment on Instagram last month that homosexuals were destined for “hell” unless they repented.
Folau’s remark caused outrage in some quarters but Rugby Australia declined to censure him despite pressure from key sponsors such as airline Qantas, who the cash-strapped governing body can barely afford to lose.
Folau, a former Mormon who now attends a church allied to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, said last year that he would not support legislation allowing gay marriage during nationwide plebiscite over the issue.
Australia’s parliament voted to legalise same-sex marriage in December after the vote returned an overwhelming majority in favour of same sex unions.
Folau said in a post on the PlayersVoice website last month that he had offered to walk away from his Rugby Australia contract immediately if the position became “untenable” for the sport.
And while his wife Maria tweeted last weekend to complain about Folau being played on the wing rather than at fullback for the Waratahs, he has flatly denied courting controversy as a negotiating position.
“That simply isn’t true,” he wrote. “There have been rugby offers from the UK, Europe and Japan that are way above anything I could earn in Australia.
“This is not about money or bargaining power or contracts. It’s about what I believe in and never compromising that, because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford)