One of Australia’s most high-profile athletes, the rugby union star Israel Folau, is facing dismissal following online comments that homosexuals and other “sinners” would go to hell.
Rugby authorities say in the “absence of compelling mitigating factors” they intend to terminate the contract of 30-year-old Folau, who has played 73 international matches for his country.
Israel Folau is one of Australian rugby’s most highly paid and talented players, but he is also its most controversial. The star fullback is facing dismissal following an Instagram post in which he said “hell awaits” gay people, as well as drunks, fornicators and atheists.
He also sent a tweet criticizing the Tasmanian parliament after it became the first Australian state to make it legally optional to list gender on birth certificates.
“The devil has blinded so many people in this world,” Folau, a devout Christian, wrote online.
Former Australian rugby international and author, Peter Fitzsimmons, says Folau’s time is up.
“When you put that kind of stuff in the public domain, when you’ve got teen suicide rates of troubled teens troubled about their sexuality, there is a case to answer to say you can do that, but not be a part of rugby, we’re not going to put you in a jersey, we’re not going to put you on the posters, we’re not going to pay you a million or two dollars when you are trashing everything we stand for. From the moment he put that up, it was the end,” Fitzsimmons said.
Folau escaped sanction following homophobic comments he made a year ago. But it seems that Australian rugby bosses have had enough and are expected to rip up his contract.
Slippery slope for free speech?
Born in Sydney to Tongan parents, Folau has previously said his faith was “far more important” than his career.
Influential Australian broadcaster Alan Jones, a former coach of the Australian international rugby union team, said if Folau’s contract was terminated it would be a “slippery slope” for free speech.
But rugby bosses said in a statement that while the outspoken player was entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed them “was inconsistent with the values of rugby.”