Israel Folau has been stood down by the NSW Waratahs as Rugby Australia heads for a bitter showdown with the embattled Wallabies superstar.
Folau met RA boss Raelene Castle on Friday, with neither party backing down in a feud that threatened to turn ugly.
Folau maintained a stony silence after earlier holding crisis talks amid RA’s threat to tear up his multi-million-dollar contract following his latest social media post on homosexuals.
Supported by his professional netballer wife Maria, the three-time John Eales Medallist spent the morning at a Sydney cafe with Rugby Union Players’ Association boss Prataal Raj and another RUPA representative plotting his next move.
Australian rugby union player Israel Folau is to have his contract terminated after social media posts attacking homosexuality, amongst other things. pic.twitter.com/3Cdl9DPHnT
— Ben Sutherland (@bensutherland) April 11, 2019
He refused to talk when approached by a TV reporter, but it’s understood Folau told Raj he wanted to observe his right to challenge RA’s planned sacking at a code of conduct hearing.
Rugby Australia later released a telling joint statement with the NSW Waratahs.
“Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged,” it said.
“Following today’s meeting, the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps.”
On Friday evening, the NSW Rugby Union doubled down with its own statement, saying Folau had been stood down.
“NSW Rugby Union has stood down Israel Folau from all player duties with the NSW Waratahs until further notice.”
RA and NSW Rugby had on Thursday night said Castle had been unable to “directly contact” Folau to advise him of her intention to terminate his $4 million four-year contract.
Castle later took to Twitter to clarify that she’d been in “in constant contact” with Folau’s manager Isaac Moses in the 24 hours since his latest social media posts on homosexuals as well as “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”, who Folau said were all destined for hell.
“He (Moses) did reach Israel, however I was unable to speak with him,” Castle tweeted.
“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”
Beyond his fierce commitment to his faith, it remains a mystery as to what had motivated Folau to continue his social media outbursts after being warned last year to express his views in a “respectful” manner.
PM weighs in
Folau’s spectacular fall from grace even had the prime minister weighing in on Friday.
“I thought they were terribly insensitive comments and, obviously, that was a matter for the ARU and they’ve taken that decision,” Scott Morrison said.
“It is important that people act with love, care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians.”
Sport Australia boss Kate Palmer commended Rugby Australia’s strong stance against discrimination and vilification and urged all sports to follow suit.
But former Wallabies coach Alan Jones slammed RA’s threat to sack Folau, saying the decision had “completely corrupted” free speech in Australia.
— Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) April 12, 2019
Folau burns bridges after latest controversy
Folau’s latest controversy follows a reprimand last year for similar homophobic sentiments posted by the star on social media.
Folau, who has yet to respond, is a dual international who began his career in rugby league and there was speculation it could offer him a lifeline.
But Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said Folau had failed the sport’s character test and would not get a contract.
“Israel Folau fails the NRL’s inclusiveness culture, which is a policy strongly supported by the ARLC,” Beattie told reporters.
“The ARLC therefore would not support his registration to play National Rugby League.”
Beattie acted swiftly as rugby league works to rebuild its own reputation with sponsors and supporters after the new season was overshadowed by a string of sex and alcohol scandals.
Folau, who has played 73 Tests and was seen as crucial for the Wallabies at this year’s World Cup in Japan, posted on Wednesday that “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators — Hell awaits you.”
He suggested they should “repent” as “only Jesus saves”.
It remained online Friday and had attracted more than 25,000 likes.
‘Way of the heathen’
But it also sparked a searing backlash, including from key Wallabies sponsor Qantas, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and gay former Welsh star Gareth Thomas.
All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder added to the condemnation, saying Folau, who is of Tongan heritage, was a role model and should not be spreading “hate, rejection, a message of intolerance and difference”.
“We should be able to come together and love one another and respect each other. Don’t let his words influence you,” he said.
Folau has previously refused to back down from his extreme religious views, and footage of him preaching to fellow churchgoers last month, obtained by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, showed how deep his opinions run.
He attacked Christmas and Easter as “man-made” traditions followed by “heathens”.
“That’s another tradition that is man-made and we always have to go back to what the Bible says about what He (God) says,” Folau said in his address.
“God is clearly saying, ‘Do not follow the way of the heathen’, which is what he’s speaking of these people here, the custom. These people do it in vain. There’s no point to doing it.”
Wallabies fullback Israel Folau is facing the sack by Australia’s rugby union over homophobic comments.