Rugby: Israel Folau to fight on after missing sacking appeal deadline

Australia's full-back Israel Folau was found guilty of a "high-level" breach for saying "hell awaits" gays and others he deems sinners. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Israel Folau lashed out at Rugby Australia Monday (May 20) for damaging his reputation and signalled an intention to fight on after his contract was torn up over homophobic comments.

He stated: "I still have a lot of rugby left in me."

The devoutly Christian fullback was found guilty of a "high-level" breach of the governing body's code of conduct for saying "hell awaits" gays and others he deems sinners.

A tribunal decided it warranted an end to his lucrative four-year A$4 million (S$3.81 million) contract to play for the Wallabies and Waratahs.

The star fullback was on Friday given 72 hours to appeal, which would have triggered another hearing with a new three-person panel.

But he opted against that course of action, which prompted Rugby Australia to announce Monday: "With the code-of-conduct matter complete, Folau's employment contract will be terminated."

Super Rugby's record try-scorer said he did not accept the verdict.

"My decision not to commence Rugby Australia's appeal process is in no way an acceptance of the judicial panel's findings," he said in a statement.

"I simply do not have confidence in Rugby Australia's ability to treat me fairly or lawfully throughout this process."

He has yet to make clear his next step, but is widely tipped to take the divisive case, which has pitted his right to religious expression against restrictions on hate speech, to the courts.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph has reported that he is determined to make a statement to the world about religious expression by pursuing legal action.

After being found guilty on Friday, he said that "upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club or country".

"The messages of support from fans, players, former rugby administrators and the public have been humbling," Folau added in his statement Monday .

"I believe I still have a lot of rugby left in me and the potential impact of Rugby Australia's decision on my reputation and my career is substantial.

"Ultimately, I need to do what is best for my family, my teammates and the fans, so I am considering all potential avenues open to me."

Folau, who was set to be a key part of the Wallabies' plans at the World Cup this year, has not played since posting a banner on Instagram last month that read: "Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators - Hell awaits you."

It remains online and followed a similar tirade last year, for which he escaped sanction.

Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle has said there were no winners from the row and admitted regret to not foreseeing further potential problems after he was let off last year.

"Our clear message to all rugby fans is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork," she said last week.

The prospect of a long court battle could cost Rugby Australia dearly at a time when it is facing revenue losses due to fewer home Tests in a World Cup year.

But Castle has played down reports that a legal battle could cripple the organisation.

"I think it is an exaggeration to say it will imperil the game's finances - I don't believe that to be true," she said.

While Folau's post sparked outrage from some quarters, others have come to his defence, including two former Wallabies coaches - Alan Jones, now a conservative radio broadcaste - and Bob Dwyer.

"I think he's a massive example for good in our society. At a time in sports when we are seeing some of the worst behaviours in sport, we've got this guy who's the exact opposite," Dwyer told the Sydney Morning Herald at the weekend.

"I think it would be a sad, sad day if he's lost to Australian sport."

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