BC-RGU--Australia-Folau Sanction,1st Ld-Writethru
SYDNEY (AP) — Rugby Australia has terminated star fullback Israel Folau’s contract after he was found guilty of a high-level breach of the players’ code of conduct for a social media post that condemned gay people and other “sinners” to eternal damnation.
The 30-year-old Folau was found guilty by a three member code-of-conduct panel on May 7 following his online posts in mid-April.
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle told a news conference Friday that the sport’s national governing body had accepted the suggested sanction of the code of conduct panel, adding that Folau had left them with no choice but to terminate his four-year contract.
“While Rugby Australia accepts the decision ... we want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game,” Castle said in a news conference broadcast live on TV. “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 a course of action resulting in today’s outcome.”
Folau is expected to appeal the decision in an Australian court.
His dismissal throws Australia’s preparations into turmoil for the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in September in Japan.
Folau has been the undisputed star in his 73 test matches for the Wallabies since he joined the rugby union ranks following professional contracts in Australian rules football and in rugby league, where he also represented Australia.
In his most recent Super Rugby match for the Sydney-based New South Wales Waratahs, Folau scored his 60th try, the most of any player in the tournament, breaking the record of former New Zealand winger Doug Howlett.
In February, Folau signed a contract extension to remain with the Waratahs and Australian rugby until the end of 2022. Folau, who calls himself a devout Christian, has argued that his contentious social media post contained a passage from the bible.
Castle said the contract clearly outlined the expectations of players and the controversy over Folau’s posts. He said the ban had created an “extremely challenging period for rugby” in a World Cup year.
“But our clear message to all rugby fans today is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork,” Castle said.
All professional players had been contacted, Castle said, and assured that Rugby Australia “fully supports their right to their own beliefs and nothing that has happened changes that.”
“But when we’re talking about inclusiveness in our game, we’re talking about respecting differences as well,” Castle said. “When we say rugby is a game for all, we mean it.”
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