Israel Folau’s career was hanging by a thread Monday as the star Wallabies fullback was given 48 hours to respond to a code of conduct breach notice or be sacked over anti-gay comments.
The deeply religious 30-year-old sparked uproar last week for a social media post saying “Hell awaits” homosexuals, with national team sponsor Qantas among those complaining.
He was embroiled in a similar row last year, but has stood by his comments and said he was prepared to choose his faith over rugby.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle moved to sack him, saying he had been repeatedly warned about his social media use but ignored the overtures and refused to apologise at a meeting on Friday.
As such, his actions were considered “a high-level breach” of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct which she said warranted termination of his employment contract.
He has 48 hours to either accept the sanction or have the matter referred to a hearing. Folau has indicated he plans to fight to save his career.
“At its core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and the commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values,” said Castle.
“Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations.
“It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.”
If Folau opts for a code of conduct hearing, an independent three-person tribunal would hear the case and determine whether he has made a breach and, if so, what punishment is appropriate.
Folau posted a banner on Instagram last week that read: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators — Hell awaits you.”
It remains online and has attracted almost 40,000 likes.
– Folau ‘disrespectful’ –
Meanwhile, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said Folau’s actions were “disrespectful” and made it unlikely he could add to his 73 Wallabies caps.
“We had a discussion after the last time and made it pretty clear about his right to believe and our support in that, if that’s what he wants, to be part of the team,” Cheika told reporters.
“But getting it out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team is about.
“When you play in the gold jersey we represent everyone in Australia, everyone. Everyone that is out there supporting us, we don’t pick and choose.”
When asked whether he would select Folau again, Cheika, who fronted the media alongside Wallabies captain Michael Hooper and NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson, said it was highly unlikely.
“I think as it stands right now… you wouldn’t be able,” Cheika said.
Neither Cheika nor Gibson have spoken to Folau, but Hooper said he had exchanged a brief text message with his Waratahs and Wallabies team-mate.
Asked if he would still be comfortable taking the field alongside him, Hooper replied: “Like was said before, in this current state and being here and talking about this as a rugby player, it makes it hard, it makes it difficult.”
“It’s hard being here, we’re rugby players for sure, we are trying to create the best team environment we possibly can and at national level,” he added.
On Sunday Folau, Super Rugby’s record try-scorer, told the Sydney Morning Herald he was ready for life without rugby, saying, “I live for God now”.
“Whatever His will is, whether that’s to continue playing or not, I’m more than happy to do what He wants me to do,” Folau said.