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Wallabies star Israel Folau sacked over anti-gay comments

The fullback has 72 hours to appeal.

Fired: Australian rugby player Israel Folau.
Fired: Australian rugby player Israel Folau.

DEVOUTLY CHRISTIAN WALLABIES star Israel Folau was sacked today for homophobic comments in a case that sparked a bitter debate and looks to have ended his glittering career in Australia.

The fullback was found guilty of a “high-level” breach of rugby’s code of conduct last week, with a three-person tribunal deciding it warranted the termination of his lucrative Aus$4million (€2.4m) four-year contract.

He has 72 hours to appeal. If he goes down this road, there will be another hearing with different panellists, before a potentially drawn-out court battle.

Folau went to the tribunal to challenge Rugby Australia’s intention to fire him after he posted that “hell awaits” gay people and others he says are sinners.

It followed a similar tirade last year, with the case proving complex and divisive, pitting his right to free speech against restrictions on hate speech.

Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said the outcome was “a painful situation for the game” and Folau “knew when he pressed that button there were implications that post was going to have”.

“Rugby Australia did not choose to be in this situation, but Rugby Australia’s position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue this course of action,” she 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.”

While Folau’s post sparked outrage from some quarters, RA’s handling of the case has also upset players of Pacific island heritage who fear their religious beliefs are under attack.

Castle said she had not spoken to Folau but had communicated the decision to key players to make clear “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,” she added.

“When we say rugby is a game for all, we mean it. People need to feel safe and welcomed in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion, or sexuality.”

- Not part of the deal -

The three-person tribunal heard evidence from Folau, Castle and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, among others.

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Its decision effectively ends the 30-year-old’s sporting career in Australia, after rugby league officials vowed he would not be welcomed there either. Playing for an overseas club remains an option.

Folau, who has played 73 Tests and was one of the sport’s most marketable players, has been unshakeable in his convictions, vowing to continue uploading religious material.

© – AFP 2019 


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