Folau 'saddened' by sacking, considering his options

Wallabies star Israel Folau in Sydney on May 7. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Wallabies star Israel Folau in Sydney on May 7. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Israel Folau says he is considering his options and is "deeply saddened" by his sacking.

A three-person independent panel on Friday found Folau's anti-gay social media posts warranted the termination of his four-year deal with Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs.

The 73-Test fullback responded two-and-a-half hours later with a statement saying his religious beliefs "should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country".

"It has been a privilege and an honour to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love," Folau said.

"I am deeply saddened by today's decision to terminate my employment and I am considering my options.

"As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression. The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God's word. Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country.

"I would like to thank my wife Maria for her love and encouragement to stay true to our beliefs. We have been humbled by the support we have received from family, friends, players, fans and the wider community.

"Thank you also to those who have spoken out in my defence, some of whom do not share my beliefs but have defended my right to express them."

The statement followed a major, if temporary, victory for RA and NSW Rugby on the matter, with the panel finding Folau's conduct constituted a "high-level breach" and warranted his sacking.

Folau has the right to appeal the decision, characterised as "landmark" by Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle, and has 72 hours to do so.

"We want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game," said Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle after announcing the panel's decision on Friday.

"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 the course of action resulting in today's outcome.

"This has been an extremely challenging period for rugby and this issue has created an unwanted distraction in an important year for the sport and for the Wallabies team.

"But 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.

"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."

As it stands, the decision is set to bring to an end Folau's nine-year partnership with the Waratahs and Wallabies, a union that was unexpected at the time but that went on to be a huge success. He was a key part of the Waratahs' 2014 Super Rugby title win and only this season became the all-time top try scorer in Super Rugby history.

Notwithstanding his right of appeal, it also effectively signals the end of Folau's professional sporting career in Australia, after the ARL commission indicated the former Kangaroo would not be welcomed back to the NRL.

He could potentially be picked up by a club in Japan's cash-rich Top League, but European rugby seems less likely given the heavy criticism he endured from UK and Irish pundits last year and the recent controversy over Billy Vunipola's support for Folau.

England No.8 Vunipola was issued a formal warning by the Rugby Football Union and his club side Saracens last month for a comment made on his Instagram account after he also liked Folau's April 10 post "warning" that hell awaited homosexuals.

Folau also showed no interest in moving offshore last year, preferring to stay in Australia where he and his family are developing two congregations in Sydney and Brisbane under the Truth of Jesus Christ Church brand.

His wife, Maria Folau, is also in her first season of Super Netball in Australia and is eyeing a World Cup berth with New Zealand, potentially leaving her reluctant to make a move overseas.

After making his Test debut on the wing in the Wallabies' 2013 series against the British and Irish Lions, Folau became a permanent fixture in the Australian back line under Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie and then Michael Cheika.

If Folau decides to appeal the decision, as expected, another code of conduct hearing will take place with a different set of panellists.

The Wallabies' major sponsor Qantas, which campaigned in favour of same-sex marriage, said: "As a sponsor, we think it's important that Rugby Australia has sent a clear message that singling out vulnerable LGBTI people under any circumstances is out of step with their values, not to mention the values of the community at large."

It all stems from the Wallabies and Waratah fullback's Instagram post (see below) which said homosexuals, among other groups such as drunks and atheists, were destined for hell unless they repented.

The three-person independent panel found Folau committed a high-level breach of Rugby Australia's professional players' code of conduct earlier this week, leaving him open to being sacked from the game.

After three intense days of deliberations, Folau's hearing with RA finally concluded in Sydney on Tuesday, with the finding originally scheduled for Thursday finally handed down 24 hours later.

  • SMH/The Age
This story Folau 'saddened' by sacking, considering his options first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.