Australian great Israel Folau has had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia following a short disciplinary procedure.
Rugby Australia said:
“[Folau] had committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment contract”.
The sacking comes after Folau’s latest anti-gay social media posts where he said ‘hell awaits gays’.
Folau recently signed a four-year deal with Sydney-based Super Rugby side the Waratah, and had a contract with Rugby Australia until 2022. He escaped punishment for similar comments he made on social media last year.
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said:
“Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as [a] player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations.
“It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.”
Folau spoke to journalists following a service at the Truth Of Jesus Christ Church on Sunday.
Folau said of his posts:
“I share it with love. I can see the other side of the coin where people’s reactions are the total opposite to how I’m sharing it.
“First and foremost, I live for God now. Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think. If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it.
“In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.”
Folau received some support following his social media posts notably from England and Saracens player, Billy Vunipola.
“He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to procreate, that was the goal no?
But Vunipola’s supportive comments were criticized by many across the rugby world and he has been instructed to attend a meeting with England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) bosses next week to discuss his social media comments.
In a statement the RFU said:
“Rugby is an inclusive sport, and we do not support these views. We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts.”
In a statement, Vunipola’s club side Saracens said:
“We recognise that people have different belief systems and we expect everyone to be treated equally with respect and humility.
“As representatives and role models, Saracens players have a responsibility not only to themselves but to the club and wider society.
“Billy Vunipola’s recent social media posts are inconsistent with this and we take this matter very seriously. It will be handled internally.”
And Vunipola could have been in no doubt that few support Folau’s comments. When the England 8-man came off the bench after 50 minutes in the weekend’s fixture against Bristol Bears he came on to the sound of booing from the Ashton Gate crowd.
Australian coach Michael Cheika agreed that Folau had crossed a line that was laid down by Rugby Australia when the full back and religious fundamentalist expressed similarly intolerant comments on social media last year.
Cheika also said that Folau would not be selected for his World Cup squad even before the disgraced player had been sacked.
“Getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team’s about. When you play in the gold jersey, we represent everyone in Australia. Everyone. Everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.”
Following the official statement from Rugby Australia that Folau’s contract will be terminated the player will have 48 hours to accept his sacking, or face a code of conduct hearing.
Folau has won 73 caps for Australia but it is unlikely he will play rugby again. A sport that prides itself on respect cannot be seen to accommodate toxic and intolerant comments of this kind from anyone at any level of the game. Folau will be missed on the field. His intolerant comments will not.