Sydney – Australian star Israel Folau has been fired after being found guilty of breaching Rugby Australia’s (RA) code of conduct for repeated anti-gay social media posts.
Folau’s multi-million-dollar, four-year contract was torn up on Friday, RA chief executive officer Raelene Castle told reporters.
“This outcome is a painful situation for the game … Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue this course of action,” Castle said.
“Our clear message to all rugby fans today is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork.
“I’ve communicated directly with the players to make it clear that Rugby Australia fully supports their right to their own beliefs and nothing that has happened changes that. But when we are talking about inclusiveness in our game, we’re talking about respecting differences as well.”
The termination followed a three-strong independent RA panel finding on May 7 after three days of hearings that Folau committed a high-level breach, the only level under which a player’s contract can be terminated.
The hearing came after Folau posted on Instagram last month a warning to “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and others that “hell awaits you.”
The Pentecostal Christian also tweeted criticism earlier on the same day when Tasmania became the first Australian state to make gender optional on birth certificates.
Castle on Friday noted the historic significance of the termination.
“This is a decision that will change the landscape for sport in Australia and possibly across the world … we wanted to make sure we took the time to get the decision right.”
RA said last year that Folau had been formally warned over another anti-gay post, before then awarding him a new contract.
RA has consistently insisted Folau was not punished for his beliefs but over responsibilities to his employer.
The landmark case has generated international interest and has divided rugby ranks, with many Australian players sharing Folau’s Pacific Islands heritage and Christian beliefs.
Castle on Friday emphasized respect for religious beliefs alongside professional responsibility.
“Players understand that everyone has a right to their own views and their religious beliefs. As long as they continue to express them in a respectful way, we will continue to support them.”
Folau became one of the world’s best rugby players after signing with the New South Wales Waratahs in 2013. He had previously played rugby league and Australian rules football.
He became the highest try scorer in Super Rugby history on April 6, just four days before the Instagram post which led to his sacking.
The 30-year-old had been set to play a pivotal role in Australia’s campaign at the Rugby World Cup beginning in September.
He faces an uncertain future. Australia’s National Rugby League has shut the door on his return while cash-rich European rugby clubs are an unlikely destination given he has been heavily criticized by British and Irish pundits.
Folau has the right to appeal to RA’s decision within 72 hours. Further legal action may follow.