Sacked Folau may take case to court

Israel Folau had been warned repeatedly about his social media use since last year's post.
Israel Folau had been warned repeatedly about his social media use since last year's post.

SYDNEY • Wallabies star Israel Folau said he was "deeply saddened" and considering his options after being sacked for homophobic comments yesterday in a case that looks to have ended his glittering career in Australia.

The devoutly Christian full-back was found guilty of a "high-level" breach of Rugby Australia's code of conduct last week, with a three-person tribunal deciding it warranted the termination of his lucrative A$4 million (S$3.78 million) four-year contract.

He has 72 hours to appeal, with reports that he plans to take the case to the Supreme Court.

"As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression," Folau said in a statement.

"The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country."

He went to the tribunal to challenge Rugby Australia's (RA) intention to fire him after he posted that "hell awaits" gay people and others he says are sinners.

It followed a similar tirade last year, with the case proving complex and divisive, pitting his right to free speech against restrictions on hate speech.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, who said RA had repeatedly warned Folau about his social media use since last year's post, added that the outcome was "a painful situation for the game".

"Rugby Australia's position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue this course of action," she said.

"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."

She added that given Folau's lack of remorse - the offending post is still on his feed - it was unlikely the 30-year-old, who has 73 caps, would ever play for the national team again.

Australian LGBTQ group Pride in Sport welcomed the decision, but former Wallabies coach Alan Jones, now an influential radio broadcaster known for his conservative views, was not impressed.

"They've alienated him, they've destroyed his name for quoting the bible for God's sake," Sydney's Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Sacked Folau may take case to court'. Print Edition | Subscribe