SYDNEY, Australia, Apr 12 – Wallabies star Israel Folau fought to save his career Friday as he met with Australian rugby chiefs over a homophobia row that left him facing the sack just months before the World Cup.
The deeply religious 30-year-old held talks with Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle, a day after she said she intends to fire him — barring mitigating circumstances — for posting on Instagram that “Hell awaits” homosexuals.
But the meeting with the NSW Waratahs fullback, who was embroiled in a similar controversy last year, did nothing to alter the governing body’s stance.
“Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged,” Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union said in a statement, adding that the two bodies will now “consider the next steps”.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph said Folau was told his contract would be terminated but he is entitled to go through a code of conduct hearing first, a route he will take in a bid to keep playing.
A relaxed-looking Folau and his wife Maria were spotted at a Sydney cafe with two other men, reportedly from the Rugby Union Players Association, but he refused to answer questions when approached by media.
Folau, who became Super Rugby’s record try-scorer last week, is a dual international who began his career in rugby league, and there was speculation the sport could offer him a lifeline if he is kicked out of rugby union.
But Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said he 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 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.”
The post remained online Friday, and had attracted more than 27,000 likes.
– Christmas, Easter for ‘heathens’ –
But it also sparked a backlash, including from key Wallabies sponsor Qantas, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and gay former Welsh star Gareth Thomas.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday called his comments “terribly insensitive”.
“You know it’s important that people act with love and care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians,” Morrison said.
Drew Mitchell, a Wallabies team-mate of Folau’s at the 2015 World Cup, said he would have been fully aware of the potential fallout after last year’s row.
“He’s put himself before the game, he’s put himself before his team-mates and I think he’s isolated himself to the point where there’s only one decision for Rugby Australia, where he has to go,” Mitchell told Fox Sports.
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 Daily Telegraph, showed how deeply his opinions are held.
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.”
With Folau, known for his aerial prowess, looking likely to miss the World Cup, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has a big hole to fill.
Dane Haylett-Petty is shaping as the frontrunner to wear the number 15 jersey, although Kurtley Beale could also comfortably operate at fullback.