Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne might have accidentally left the governing body open to another avenue of legal action after his comments about Israel Folau.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Clyne said the alternative to a court battle - shutting down the sport entirely - was clearly a worse outcome, citing pressure from corporate sponsors and various levels of government to keep the game alive.
“[Alternatively] we’d have no sponsors at all because no sponsor has indicated they would be willing to be associated with social media posts of that sort and that includes government, because we’ve also heard from them,” Clyne said.
“We would also potentially be in litigation with employees who are gay and who would say we’re not providing a workplace that is safe or respectful.”
But according to The Australian, Clyne’s comments about sponsors might come back to bite him.
The Australian says Clyne’s comments: “if true, give rise to not only a common law claim of interference with contractual relations, but also to a potential breach of competition law.”
‘PLEASE STOP’: Israel Folau's stunning gesture for gay activist
The Australian quoted employment law specialist Jeffrey Phillips SC, who said Clyne’s comments may have opened “another legal avenue for Folau’s team.”
“If it be the case that sponsors, or even the government, has placed any pressure on Rugby Australia to terminate his contract, then that raises prospects of interference with contractual relations and aspects of Australian competition and consumer law, in particular, section 45D dealing with secondary boycotts,” Phillips said.
However Clyne smacked down suggestions that sponsors had forced RA’s hand.
“That’s simply wrong,” he said. “Sponsors have a right to associate themselves with a game they feel best represents their values, but it is absolute nonsense to suggest it was done at the behest of a sponsor.”
Folau heading to Federal Court
Settlement negotiations broke down at the Fair Work Commission on Friday, with Folau now set to lodge an unlawful termination claim in the Federal Court.
Representatives from both parties met in Sydney on Friday for a mediation hearing - the first formal step in the dispute.
"We are disappointed that we were unable to reach settlement with Rugby Australia today," one of Folau's lawyers told reporters.
"It appears as though that unless things change, we'll be heading to court."
Folau said he was "very disappointed with the outcome".
"But I'd like to thank all those that have supported me throughout this time. I will continue to stand up for the freedoms of all Australians," he said.
Folau had been hoping RA would apologise for terminating his multi-million dollar contract over a social media post in April and acknowledge his sacking was a mistake.