Folau stood down by Waratahs
UPDATE: Wallabies star Israel Folau fought to save his career Friday as he met with Australian rugby chiefs over a homophobia row that left him facing the sack just months before the World Cup.
The deeply religious 30-year-old held talks with Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle, a day after she said she intends to fire him -barring mitigating circumstances – for posting on Instagram that “Hell awaits” homosexuals.
But the meeting with the Waratahs fullback, who was embroiled in a similar controversy last year, did nothing to alter the governing body’s stance.
“Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged,” Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union said in a statement, adding that the two bodies will now “consider the next steps”.
A separate statement from the NSW Rugby Union read: “NSW Rugby Union has stood down Israel Folau from all player duties with the NSW Waratahs until further notice.”
The Sydney Daily Telegraph said Folau was told his contract would be terminated but he is entitled to go through a code of conduct hearing first, a route he will take in a bid to keep playing.
A relaxed-looking Folau and his wife Maria were spotted at a Sydney cafe with two other men, reportedly from the Rugby Union Players Association, but he refused to answer questions when approached by media.
Folau, who became Super Rugby’s record try-scorer last week, is a dual international who began his career in Rugby League, and there was speculation the sport could offer him a lifeline if he is kicked out of rugby union.
But Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said he had failed the sport’s character test and would not get a contract.
“Israel Folau fails the NRL’s inclusiveness culture, which is a policy strongly supported by the ARLC,” Beattie told reporters.
“The ARLC therefore would not support his registration to play National Rugby League.”
Beattie acted swiftly as Rugby League works to rebuild its own reputation after the new season was overshadowed by a string of sex and alcohol scandals.
Folau, who has played 73 Tests and was seen as crucial for the Wallabies at this year’s World Cup in Japan, posted on Wednesday that “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you.”
The post remained online Friday, and had attracted more than 27 000 likes.
But it also sparked a searing backlash, including from key Wallabies sponsor Qantas, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and gay former Welsh star Gareth Thomas.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday called his comments “terribly insensitive”.
“You know it’s important that people act with love and care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians,” he added.
Drew Mitchell, a Wallabies teammate of Folau’s at the 2015 World Cup, said he would have been fully aware of the potential fallout after the row over his similar comments last year.
“He’s put himself before the game, he’s put himself before his teammates and I think he’s isolated himself to the point where there’s only one decision for Rugby Australia, where he has to go,” he told Fox Sports.
Folau has previously refused to back down from his extreme religious views, and footage of him preaching to fellow churchgoers last month, obtained by the Daily Telegraph, showed how deeply his opinions are held.
He attacked Christmas and Easter as “man-made” traditions followed by “heathens”.
“That’s another tradition that is man-made and we always have to go back to what the Bible says about what He [God] says,” Folau said in his address.
“God is clearly saying, ‘Do not follow the way of the heathen’, which is what he’s speaking of these people here, the custom. These people do it in vain. There’s no point to doing it.”
With Folau looking likely to miss the World Cup, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has a big hole to fill.
Few people can match his aerial prowess, with Dane Haylett-Petty shaping as the frontrunner to wear the No.15 jersey, although Kurtley Beale could also comfortably operate at fullback.
See below for the joint statement from Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle and NSW Rugby Union CEO, Andrew Hore which was released on Thursday:
Source: AFP, The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, Fox Sports