SYDNEY (Reuters) - Rugby Australia terminated fullback Israel Folau's contract on Friday (May 17) for committing a high level breach of the players' code of conduct by sharing a social media post.
"Israel Folau has today been issued a sanction directing termination of his playing contract for his high-level breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct," Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle told reporters in Sydney on Friday. "This outcome is painful for the game.
"RA supports (players') rights to their own beliefs and nothing changes from that. But when we talk about inclusiveness we mean that we respect our differences as well."
The protracted saga was triggered by Folau's Instagram post on April 10 that said hell awaited "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers" and others the fundamentalist Christian considered sinners.
The 30-year-old player, who has already lost one sponsorship deal over the issue, has 72 hours to appeal the ruling.
Folau shared a similar post last year but escaped sanction and signed a new four-year contract, reported to be worth A$4 million (S$3.79 million), in February.
The decision leaves Australia coach Michael Cheika without one of his few world-class players only a few months out from the World Cup in Japan.
A high-profile recruit to the sport in 2013, the former rugby league international and Australian Rules player last month became the top try scorer in the history of Super Rugby.
Cheika was among those who gave evidence at the hearing along with Folau, Castle and her New South Wales Waratahs equivalent Andrew Hore.
According to local media Folau turned down a A$1 million settlement offer, although Castle said RA had not got that far.
"Those discussions never came to a point where they came to the board or myself," Castle added.
Folau told the congregation at his church in Sydney at the weekend that backing down on the matter would have been akin to succumbing to the temptation of Satan.
The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday reported that RA had intended to put specific clauses about social media use into Folau's new contract after last year's row but "someone" had forgotten.
The saga over his sacking has triggered a wider debate in Australia about freedom of speech and the power of employers to control their employees away from the workplace.
It also caused some issues with Pasifika players, many of whom are deeply religious, with one player suggesting earlier this month that it could drive a wedge in the Wallabies.
Castle, however, said there was no issue with them expressing their views as long as they did not breach RA's principles of inclusiveness and she believed Cheika would be able to build a strong and unified side for the World Cup.
"I'm 100 per cent confident because those players understand everyone has a right to those views," she said when asked about Pasifika players being worried about expressing their thoughts.
"I have absolute confidence that Michael Cheika will build a Wallabies team that will be incredibly competitive at the ... World Cup."