Following weeks of controversy, Israel Folau has been sacked by Rugby Australia in relation to a number of anti-gay comments he shared on social media last month.
The news was confirmed on Friday afternoon as rugby boss Raelene Castle delivered a press conference in Sydney, revealing that the 30-year-old star’s four-year contract has been terminated, after a decision was handed down from an independent three-member panel.
“While Rugby Australia accepts the panel’s decision directing termination of Israel Folau’s playing contract for his high-level breach of the Code of Conduct, we want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game,” Castle said, admitting she was “really sad” about the matter.
“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.
“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.”
Chief Executive Castle added: “Israel is a great Rugby player and we are disappointed and saddened by the fact that he will not see out his four-year commitment to the Wallabies and Waratahs.”
The rugby union ace, who is a devout Christian, took to Instagram in April and shared an image which said that sinners including “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators” would be going to hell.
Israel now has 72 hours to appeal Rugby Australia’s decision to throw out his contract, worth $4 million.
Rugby fans took to social media to debate the decision, with one Folau supporter writing: “Raelene Castle,Rugby Australia,your behavior in sacking Israel Folau is disgusting.Your actions were more about not upsetting the other side.” Another said: “Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing this shows there is no such freedom.”
While another, in favour of Folau’s axing, wrote: “I particularly enjoy that Israel Folau was sacked over his comments on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.”
The shocking news comes after Folau rejected an offer from Rugby Australia last week to rejoin the team if he removed the posts from his social media feeds immediately, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Speaking at a church service on Sunday, the rugby union star revealed the “temptation” to take up the offer but said, while he could step back into his role on the team, it is “always the will of God that comes first”.
In a video shared from The Truth of Jesus Christ church service Folau said: “There have been many opportunities to potentially make the situation a little bit easier. I could go back and play the game, get everything back to the way it used to be.