Ugly claims about Qantas’ involvement in Rugby Australia’s decision to sack Israel Folau have come back to the fore after the airline giants ended their 30-year partnership with the code on Wednesday.
Qantas announced on Wednesday it will pull about $20 million of sponsorships from Australian sports already taking big financial hits from the coronavirus pandemic.
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The airline will withdraw cash sponsorships of cricket, rugby, soccer and Olympics and Paralympics in Australia, with the move a particularly heavy blow for financially-stricken Rugby Australia.
“Regrettably, Qantas is not in a position to continue its 30-year relationship with Rugby Australia beyond the end of this calendar year,” the airline said.
The announcement was a big shock to many, with Qantas acting as one of the Wallabies’ main sponsors since 1990.
But in an ugly twist, the code’s decision to sack Folau last year for homophobic social media posts was thrust back into the spotlight.
At the time, former Wallabies coach Alan Jones claimed Qantas had pressured Rugby Australia to sack Folau and threatened to pull their sponsorship if they didn’t.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce slammed the claims as “outrageous”, however Cameron Clyne - RA Chairman at the time - admitted they acted in the belief that sponsors wouldn’t want to be associated with Folau and the code.
On Wednesday, News Corp columnist Miranda Devine took aim at Qantas in the belief that they’d forced RA to dump Folau and then abandoned them.
“Qantas held a gun to the head of Rugby Australia last year and forced them to sack Israel Folau, the best player of his generation. Now the Flying Kangaroo has deserted the game in its hour of need,” Devine wrote.
“What an un-Australian act of bastardry.
“Rugby Australia had surrendered their decision-making to Qantas, lost their best player, jettisoned their pride, dignity, honour and integrity. And still, after all that pain, without a moment’s remorse, Qantas walked away from their 30-year partnership this week.”
Qantas said their decision to cut ties with Rugby Australia had nothing to do with the Folau scandal.
However fans were quick to make mention of it after learning of the news.
That Folau sacking to protect QANTAS cash was a smart move.......— Mick Steggle (@MickSteggle) September 23, 2020
Rugby Australian much destroyed itself through the Israel Folau saga at the behest of Qantas. Now Qantas has abandoned them anyway.— Fluffy Bunny (@delicaterainbo) September 23, 2020
Aus rugby let Folau go because Qantas dictated...now Aus rugby is without Qantas and Folau. #goodgoing— Jacques Terblanche (@rooirysmier) September 23, 2020
So they got rid of Folau & no longer have the sponsorship outlay. Sounds like 2/2 for Qantas & 0/2 for the Wallabies - Folau payout & lost sponsorship.— Interested Outsider (@b_leeder) September 23, 2020
Qantas ends 30-year deal with Rugby Australia
Qantas had held naming rights for the Wallabies since 2004 and had been a sponsor for three decades.
Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said the airline will save around $20m from the decision.
“In an environment where thousands of our people have lost jobs and thousands more are stood down while they wait for flying to restart, we can't maintain these sponsorships in the way we have in the past,” Tully said on Wednesday.
“While we're dealing with this crisis and its aftermath, the cash cost of our sponsorships has to be zero.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Qantas has stood down more than 20,000 employees and announced up to 8500 jobs will go.
In August, the airline group posted a $2.7 billion before-tax loss for the 2020 financial year and forecast revenue to fall by $10b next year.
Rugby Australia’s current broadcast deal is set to expire at the end of this year with the loss of Qantas’ estimated $5m sponsorship another blow to the code.
“While it is obviously disappointing ... it is understandable given the world we are all now living in and the challenges we are all facing,” RA chief executive Rob Clarke said in a statement.
Qantas said its in-kind support of RA, Cricket Australia, Football Federation Australia, the Australian Olympic Committee and Paralympics Australia would continue for the next 12 months before being reviewed.
The Qantas logo would continue on shirts of Australia's cricketers with the airline expected to fly athletes to next year's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.