MELBOURNE: Sacked Australia fullback Israel Folau's crowdfunding campaign to raise money to fight his termination has been shut down by the GoFundMe platform, with more than AUS$750,000 (£588,419) to be returned to thousands of donors.
Folau launched his GoFundMe page on Friday, appealing for AUS$3 million he said he needed for a potentially long legal battle against Rugby Australia (RA) and his former Super Rugby team New South Wales Waratahs.
RA and the Waratahs tore up Folau's four-year contract last month after the fundamentalist Christian was found guilty of a "high-level breach" of RA's code of conduct for posting on social media that hell awaits homosexuals and other groups.
GoFundMe Australia's regional manager Nicola Britton said the crowdfunding platform was "absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ people" and that Folau's campaign had breached their terms of service.
"While we welcome GoFundMes engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion," Britton said in a statement on Monday.
"Today we will be closing Israel Folau’s campaign and issuing full refunds to all donors."
A spokesman for Folau said the decision was "very disappointing."
“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.”
The spokesman added that several organisations had already expressed interest in supporting Folau's fundraising efforts.
Folau's GoFundMe page raised over AUS$250,000 from more than 2,500 donors within 12 hours of its launch, despite criticism raining down on the 30-year-old on social media, including from former Wallabies team mate Drew Mitchell.
GoFundMe's decision drew praise from LGBT groups on social media and criticism from conservative Christians.
"The haters and Christophobes have forced Israel Folau’s church into hiding and GoFundMe appears to have closed his account, in the usual illiberal way of woke corporates," Miranda Devine, a conservative columnist for Sydney's Daily Telegraph, tweeted.
The controversy over Folau's page also enveloped his wife Maria Folau, a professional netballer, who was pilloried for supporting her husband's GoFundMe campaign on social media.
Netball SA, the governing body of the sport in South Australia state, issued a statement on Sunday saying she had not breached their social media policy.
Folau's spokesman noted the "attacks" on his wife.
"While Israel does not intend to respond in detail at this time regarding the accusations thrown at him or his family he wants it known that these attacks have hardened his resolve,” the spokesman said.
Folau announced earlier this month that he had begun legal proceedings against RA and the Waratahs at the Fair Work Commission, an industrial tribunal, casting the action as the pursuit of his "right to religious freedom".
Folau's contract, signed late last year, was worth a reported AUS$5 million.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)