Rugby Australia’s pain as Folau saga drags on
THE Israel Folau sacking saga is set to stretch into next month after officials failed to finalise the panellists for the code of conduct hearing by Thursday.
Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players' Association are trying to lock in the three independent panellists, and had hoped to do so already, but could not secure a trio.
The governing body and the player's union will attempt to confirm the panel by next Tuesday, although there are no guarantees this will be done, with both parties having to approve each other's picks and the chair of the panel.
Once the panel is confirmed, they will have to find a date when all three are available for the code of conduct hearing, and that is increasingly looking to be the first week of May.
The longer the case drags on, the more harm rugby suffers.
The NSW Waratahs have two important home games to play against Melbourne Rebels and Durban's Sharks over the next nine days, but the intense public scrutiny of Folau's fight against RA has pushed that to the background.
RA's sponsors are also unimpressed by the unfolding events.
Folau is paying high-profile lawyer Ramy Qutami out of his own pocket to overturn RA's decision to terminate his $4 million contract over homophobic social media posts.
The 30-year-old Wallaby will use a defence of religious expression, claiming his April 10 Instagram post was merely quoting scripture.
But RA gave Folau a formal warning letter last year for a similar post, and they'll claim he has breached their code of conduct by vilifying people based on their sexuality.
Regardless of how the case unfolds, rugby and its administrators will sustain enormous damage.
Revelations that RA attempted to retrospectively add social media clauses to Folau's four-year contract, rejected by the player because he'd already signed, has heaped pressure on RA chief executive Raelene Castle.
And after the controversy of last year, plenty of questions are being asked about why Folau was signed to a four-year deal.
It's understood some within RA were keen on re-signing Folau for just one year, though Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was determined to keep the superstar long-term.
Since Folau's post caused a storm last week, Cheika has declared he cannot pick him for Australia given the distraction caused.
And with NSW coach Daryl Gibson revealing Folau has also failed to return his calls since the drama unfolded, it appears improbable the fullback would be considered for selection in Super Rugby should he somehow win his case.
If Folau loses his case, he may well challenge in a court of law.
If that was to eventuate, lawyers estimate it could take up to two years to conclude.
RA has already projected multimillion-dollar losses in the next financial year due to hosting only three Tests because of the World Cup starting in September.
They are confident of their case against Folau, but the uncharted territory of this issue creates a legal minefield that will put RA's decision-making and contracting process firmly in the limelight.