Australian rugby player Israel Folau is to be fired by both Rugby Australia and New South Wales Rugby after posting anti-gay messages on social media.
The two bodies that employ Folau in the Australian national team and in the New South Wales Waratahs announced on Thursday (April 11) they intend to terminate of the player’s contract, saying their repeated attempts to contact Folau had been unsuccessful.
The joint statement read: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.
“We have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.”
“Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.
“Rugby is a sport that continuously works to unite people. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our game and no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality is acceptable and no language that isolates, divides or insults people based on any of those factors can be tolerated.
“As a code we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action. In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”
The rugby star, who is Christian, posted messages on Instagram and Twitter on Wednesday (April 10) telling “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” that “hell awaits” unless they “repent.”
The messages were published hours after Tasmania passed sweeping reforms to permit people 16 or older to change their registered gender, removing requirements for transgender people to undergo surgery in order to have their legal gender recognised.
Folau’s posts were ‘liked’ by a number of fellow rugby players, such as fellow Wallabies teammates Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa and All Blacks flanker Vaea Fifita, The Sydney Morning Herald and Newshub reported.
Rugby Australia, whose code of conduct forbids players from engaging in discriminatory practices, initially said in a statement that its integrity unit would review the “unacceptable” messages in a meeting on Thursday.
“Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”
The decision to terminate Folau’s contract, which comes just months ahead of the Rugby World Cup in September, received praise on Twitter.
“Well done to Rugby NSW & Australia for your decisive and definitive action and strongly and clearly worded statement. All credit to you for trying to work with Israel to educate him first. Vilification has no place in an inclusive society,” wrote Australian business executive Michael Ebeid.
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“Israel’s comments were awful, an awful look for rugby, and he should have been sacked. But they were also an awful look for Christianity. Kudos to believers who recognised that and called it out. Being religious doesn’t mean hating others. It means the opposite,” journalist Ben McKay reacted.
“Re: Israel Folau, before people start: everyone is free to hold the opinion that gay people are going to hell. Please consider by way of example, the prime minister of Australia. This is a case of breaching a social media policy, not holding an opinion. Thanks,” commented LGBT+ activist and change.org Australia director Sally Rugg.
Wallabies main sponsor Qantas Airways, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and former rugby players Joe Marler and Gareth Thomas were among the figures and organisations who strongly condemned Folau’s views.
Israel Folau has a history of making anti-LGBT comments
Folau stood by his stance despite opposition, insisting that it did not mean he was discriminatory. He wrote on Twitter: “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions.”
However, just months later in April 2018, he prompted outrage by saying gay people were going to hell “unless they repent of their sins.”
His latest anti-LGBT+ posts were posted exactly a year since meeting with Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and NSW Rugby counterpart Andrew Hore to discuss his social media use.
“We’d really like him to stay in rugby – that’s hugely important to us, he’s a great player,” Castle said at the time, quoted in ESPN.
In February, Folau signed a multi-million contract extension that ensured his stay with the NSW Waratahs until the end of 2022.