Rugby Australia have said they are planning to terminate Israel Folau’s contract following his latest anti-gay social media posts on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old Wallabies star faced an intense backlash after he posted a photo to Instagram declaring “hell awaits” the “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” unless they repent. In a separate tweet, he appeared to declare Tasmania’s recent transgender law reform as “evil” and influenced by “the devil”.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union said they “have made repeated attempts to contact Israel both directly and via his representatives since 6.30pm on Wednesday, and at this point he has failed to communicate directly with either organisation.”
“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,” Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said.
“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.
“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.
“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.”
Four Australian gay rugby clubs speak out
In response, four Australian gay and inclusive rugby teams – the Brisbane Hustlers, the Sydney Convicts, the Melbourne Chargers, and the Perth Rams – said they welcomed the move by Rugby Australia and New South Wales Rugby Union.
“We welcome the decision as we take this opportunity to highlight the vulnerability of the LGBTIQA+ community in that our community lives with disproportionately poorer mental health outcomes which have been directly linked to lived experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse,” the clubs said in a joint statement.
“We also note the particular vulnerabilities of the LGBTIQA+ Pasifika community.
“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.”
The clubs said Rugby Australia committed to eliminating homophobia in sport at the 2014 Bingham Cup, which is known as “the World Cup of gay rugby”.
“Today’s decision demonstrates the sport’s ongoing commitment to this goal in making sure rugby union is a game where labels are irrelevant and it is the effort of each player, team and support network that define them,” they said.
Andrew Purchas, founder of the Sydney Convicts gay rugby team and co-founder of advocacy program Pride in Sport, also commended Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby Union for their “strong stand against homophobia and transphobia.”
“This unprecedented course of action sends a strong message of what will and will not be tolerated in rugby – and they’ve made it clear that homophobia and transphobia has no place in the sport, whether on or off the field,” he said.
“The words and actions of athletes and sporting figures have far-reaching consequences.
“Homophobic and transphobic remarks create division, take away people’s dignity and can contribute to people feeling excluded, anxious and inferior.
“We encourage all sporting bodies to follow the lead of Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby Union, and take a stand against homophobic and transphobic discrimination when it occurs, regardless of an individual’s social or professional stature within that sport.”
Earlier on Thursday, major Wallabies sponsor Qantas said it was “really disappointed” by Folau’s remarks, after the airline threatened to pull sponsorship from the team after Folau’s comments last April.
“These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support,” the airline said in a statement.
“We are pleased to see Rugby Australia’s condemnation of the comments and will await the outcome of their review.”
Last April, the 30-year-old was cautioned by Rugby Australia bosses but escaped sanctions for comments on Instagram suggesting “hell” was “God’s plan” for gay people. Chief executive Raelene Castle said at the time they had to strike a balance between public expectations and Folau’s religious beliefs.
But in a statement on Wednesday night, Rugby Australia slammed Folau’s latest outburst as “unacceptable” and “disrespectful”, saying the content of the Instagram post “does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the rugby community”.
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