Australian billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest could offer Israel Folau a career lifeline in Asia if the star Wallaby’s contract is terminated over his homophobic comments, it was reported Thursday.
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu has also said he is keen for Folau to switch allegiance to his team, even though the fullback would have to serve a three-year stand-down period to be eligible.
The devoutly Christian player was found guilty this week of a “high-level” breach of the sport’s code of conduct after posting an anti-gay statement on social media, leaving his career hanging in the balance.
The 30-year-old has limited options if his lucrative Rugby Australia contract is torn up, with the National Rugby League ruling out signing him and many overseas rugby clubs shying away from his anti-gay views.
But Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported that Forrest, himself a committed Christian, could find a spot for Folau in his Global Rapid Rugby competition, which is set to kick off next year.
It said the competition was interested in making the fullback a marquee signing for either the Hong Kong-based South China Tigers or the Singapore-based Asia Pacific Dragons.
“Global Rapid Rugby has spoken to a number of talented international players and will continue to do so,” a spokesman for the competition told AFP when asked about Folau.
“No contracts have been offered to any players.”
He added that marquee players were likely to be a part of the competition.
Global Rapid Rugby, a fast-paced game with radical new rules, was set up by mining magnate Forrest after his beloved Western Force were cut from the Super Rugby competition in 2017.
An eight-team, 56-game competition is due to begin in 2020 after its launch was delayed by 12 months because of this year’s World Cup in Japan.
Instead, some of the teams are involved in a “Showcase Series” travelling throughout Asia and the Pacific. The next match is in Hong Kong on Sunday followed by fixtures in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.
But Forrest could face competition from Tonga for Folau, with Kefu saying he would welcome the prolific try scorer.
“I’d love that. I think he would get a lot of satisfaction out of playing for Tonga,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“He could definitely be available for the next World Cup (in 2023).”
However, the former Wallabies forward revealed there was a catch if Sydney-born Folau chose to represent his parents’ homeland — he would have to do it for free.
“The Tonga Rugby Union has no money, we are 100 percent funded by World Rugby, he said.
“We cant afford to pay our players. So our players they play for pride of jersey, they play to representative their families, they play to go to a World Cup.”
Rugby Australia’s code of conduct panel is yet to decide what sanction Folau will face – he could be fired from his four-year Aus$4 million contract, fined or suspended.
No timescale has been given for the decision, with legal experts warning that whatever happens an appeal is likely, potentially followed by a drawn-out court battle.