Israel Folau was today officially sacked from the Australia rugby union team for a homophobic Instagram post.
The decision makes the devout Christian the first Australian athlete dismissed for expressing religious beliefs.
Folau, 30, has the right to appeal and have his case heard at a second code of conduct hearing by a new panel.
But he will reportedly skip that process and head straight to court to argue that he is being persecuted for his religion.
In a press conference this afternoon, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said Folau was a ‘great player’ but that everyone has the right to be respected regardless of sexuality, race, gender or religion.
After Folau was sacked, former Wallabies coach Alan Jones said Rugby Australia had ‘internationally destroyed his name for quoting a passage from the bible’.
On Wednesday, Folau was seen flying out of Sydney bound for South Australia where wife Maria plays for the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
On Wednesday, Folau (pictured) was seen flying out of Sydney bound for South Australia where wife Maria plays for the Adelaide Thunderbirds
Ms Castle said she had not told Folau (pictured) directly about the decision to terminate his contract as there was a ‘process in place’
In a press conference this afternoon, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle (pictured) said Folau was a ‘great player’ but that everyone has the right to be respected regardless of sexuality, race, gender or religion
Folau (pictured with his wife Maria) is the first Australian athlete dismissed for expressing religious beliefs
Ms Castle said Rugby Australia ‘did not choose to be put in this position.’
‘We want to stress that this outcome is a painful outcome for the game. 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 today’s outcome,’ she said.
‘This has been an extremely challenging period for rugby. This issue has created an unwanted distraction in an important year for the sport and the Wallabies team.
‘Our clear message today is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork.’
Ms Castle said she had told all rugby players in Australia that RA supports their rights to their own beliefs.
‘But when we are talking about inclusiveness in our game, we are talking about respecting differences as well,’ she said.
‘When we say rugby is a game for all, we mean it. People need to feel safe and welcoming in the game, regardless of their race, background or sexuality.
‘When players sign a contract with the Wallabies, they sign up to the values of the team and the sport.
Christian Reds and Rebels players huddle on the pitch after their match last weekend in solidarity with Folau
‘Israel is a great rugby player. We are disappointed and saddened by the by the fact that he will not be seeing out his four-year contract and commitment to the Wallabies and also the Waratahs.’
Ms Castle said she had not told Folau directly about the decision to terminate his contract as there was a ‘process in place’.
‘We understood that the posts Israel made did create some concern among a portion of our community and did create some harm,’ she said.
‘At the end of the day Israel has 72 hours to appeal and that will be left with him to make the decision about where this goes next.
‘This is a decision that will change the landscape for sport across Australia and perhaps internationally.
‘It will be a landmark, it will be important, and it is a big decision. He is a very important player in our game and he has been for a long period of time and we wanted to make sure we took the time to get it right.’
Ms Castle said she had spoken directly to Folau and with his manager about Rugby Australia’s ‘very clear expectations’.
She also said there had been discussions among the lawyers about a payout for Folau but the suggestion had ‘not advanced to a stage where they could be brought to Rugby Australia for consideration’.
Ms Castle said she was ‘100 per cent’ confident there wouldn’t be a rift in the national side due to Folau’s contract termination.
‘I’m confident because those players understand that everybody has a right to their own views or religious beliefs, and as long as they continue to express them in a respectful way we will continue to support them,’ she said.
‘And I have absolute confidence that Michael Cheika will build a rugby team that is incredibly competitive for the World Cup.’
Ms Castle said she could not imagine Folau playing professional rugby again if his Instagram post remains up and he is unapologetic.
‘We have many players who quote the Bible on their social media platform. We had a prayer circle on the ground between players after the game last weekend and Rugby Australia and the Waratahs are completely supportive of that and that is an expression of their religious views as well,’ she said.
Ms Castle said she was ‘disappointed’ that Folau had not apologised.
‘He hurt some people, it was acknowledged and he did it anyway. It is disappointing in this situation.’
Ms Castle said Rugby Australia’s sponsors had an ‘expectation’ that Rugby Australia has similar values to them.
Folau caused huge controversy with an Instagram post in April that claimed homosexuals were going to hell unless they ‘repent’.
He was immediately stood down from his club team, the New South Wales Waratahs.
After a week-long code of conduct hearing in Sydney, a three-person panel last week retired to decide on Folau’s sanction.
The trial stretched far beyond the rugby pitch, triggering a wider debate in Australia about freedom of speech and the power of employers to control their employees away from the workplace.
The panel made the decision today to terminate his $4million contract.
The Wallabies star (pictured with his wife), 30, has been sacked from the Australia team
The offending post, which has attracted 54,000 ‘likes’ and 48,000 comments, remains on Folau’s Instagram page.
Folau has played 73 Tests for the Wallabies and became Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer earlier this year.
The fullback of Tongan descent was given a formal warning by Rugby Australia last year after sharing a similar homophobic post that claimed gay people were destined for hell.
He then signed a lucrative contract extension in October.
Folau’s career kicked off in rugby league, where he played 91 NRL games, five Origin games for Queensland and represented Australia on eight occasions.
He also played 13 games for AFL club GWS Giants in 2011-12.
Folau was issued with a ‘high-level’ breach notice last month after he shared this social media post which claimed homosexuals were going to hell unless they ‘repent’
Israel Folau’s incredible sporting career
NRL: 2007-2010: Games 91. Tries 73
Melbourne Storm (2007-08): Games 52. Tries 36; Brisbane Broncos 2009-10: Games: 39: tries 37)
Grand final winner 2007 before the Storm’s premiership was stripped for salary-cap breaches
Queensland: (2008-10): Games 5. Tries 5
State of Origin series winner 2008, 2009, 2010
Australia (2007-09): Tests: 8. Tries: 6
Greater Western Sydney (2011-12): Games 13. Goals 2
NSW Waratahs (2013-19): Games: 96. Tries: 60
Super Rugby championship winner 2014
Australia (2013-18): Tests: 73. Tries: 37
Rugby Championship winner 2015
– Aged 17, became Melbourne Storm’s youngest NRL debutant
– Equal top try-scorer in NRL debut season of 2007
– NRL 2007 Dally M Rookie of the Year
– Aged 18 years and 194 days, became youngest to play a Test match for Australia (versus New Zealand, October 14, 2007)
– Rugby League International Federation 2007 Newcomer of the Year
– NRL 2008 Dally M Centre of the Year
– Signed AFL contract with expansion club GWS for four years, reportedly worth $6million, but quit the code after two seasons
– Won Rugby Australia’s John Eales Medal, for Wallabies’ player of the year, a record three times (2014, 2015, 2017)
– Equalled Lote Tuqiri’s record of most tries by a Wallaby in a calendar year with 10 in his maiden season in rugby in 2013
– Super Rugby’s record holder for most tries
– Super Rugby’s equal top try-scorer in 2014 and top try-scorer in 2016
– Equal third on Wallabies’ all-time try-scoring list with Adam Ashley-Cooper, behind only Chris Latham and David Campese