Israel Folau’s second fundraising drive for legal costs has already received more donations in 24 hours than his previous GoFundMe campaign managed to raise before its closure on Monday. The sacked Wallabies star had pledges totalling A$1.26 million (€770,000) yesterday after hundreds of donors emptied their pockets to help fund his legal fight against Rugby Australia.
On a relaunched campaign facilitated by the Australian Christian Lobby, in the space of 14 hours the cash figure edged past A$765,000 (€468,000), which is about what Folau accumulated through his GoFundMe website. It soon hit A$800,000.
It was an exercise former Wallaby teammate Drew Mitchell labelled “greedy” before the American company cancelled the page and issued refunds because Folau’s cause violated their terms and conditions.
It didn’t take long for the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) to get involved and support the multimillionaire, who has pleaded for the public to fund his legal battle with Rugby Australia after the code’s governing body sacked him for a “high-level breach” of the professional players’ code of conduct.
Folau posted a photo on Instagram on April 10 that said homosexuals were destined for hell unless they repented their sins. Legal experts have expressed their bewilderment at why Folau wanted A$3 million from his GoFundMe page when his fees won’t come close to that figure.
In the 14 hours the page has been live, Folau has been making close to A$60,000 (€35,000) an hour. Throughout the morning when Australians began waking up, donations came in at more than A$1,000 a minute. The ACL kick-started the fund with a A$100,000 donation of their own.
“Recently, the online fundraising platform GoFundMe shut down Israel Folau’s legal defence fund and turned away hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations,” ACL managing director Martyn Iles said on the website.
“I have also offered to host his online appeal for funds here on our website and he has accepted our offer. All gifts you give on this web page will be deposited into a trust account to pay for Israel Folau’s legal case. So, please give generously today to help Israel Folau stand for your religious freedom.”
The GoFundMe campaign will issue refunds to 7,000 donors who contributed more than $520,000 in four days to Folau’s cause before his online campaign was halted.
“After a routine period of evaluation, we have concluded this campaign violates our terms of service,” GoFundMe regional manager in Australia, Nicola Britton, explained. “As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity,” Britton said. “While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.”
Folau, who describes himself as a devout Christian and says he was referencing the bible in his social media posts, has polarised opinion in Australia. The 30-year-old Folau listed gay people among a group of sinners whom he said would face damnation unless they repented. He had previously been warned after a similar post during Australia’s national debate over the legalisation of gay marriage.
A spokesman for Folau was quoted by AAP as saying GoFundMe’s decision was disappointing and went against the rights of people to support Folau, who said he is fighting for his religious beliefs. More than 95,000 people signed a petition calling on GoFundMe to take down Folau’s page.