SYDNEY – Former Wallabies coach Alan Jones slammed the treatment of Israel Folau on Wednesday, calling those punishing him over homophobic comments "sick" but adding that the star fullback had told him he was "at peace".
The devoutly Christian player on Tuesday was found guilty of a "high-level" breach of the sport's code of conduct after posting an anti-gay statement on social media, leaving his career hanging in the balance.
He faces his lucrative four-year contract being terminated, with the three-person code of conduct panel taking written submissions from his legal team and Rugby Australia before deciding on his punishment.
The governing body moved to sack him after he posted a banner on Instagram last month that read: "Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you."
Jones, who coached the Wallabies during a golden era in the late 1980s, has been a frequent critic of Rugby Australia and one of the staunchest defenders of Folau's right to free speech.
Now an influential and outspoken radio broadcaster, known for his conservative views, he relayed a message he said he had received from Folau.
"I've just had a note from Israel, he won't mind if I'm sharing it with you because I said to him, 'Hold your head up'," Jones said on his morning programme.
"He said, 'Alan, I'm at peace, mate. My head is held high'."
Folau's case has proved complex and divisive, pitting his right to free speech against the offence he has caused others and damage to rugby's reputation.
It has split opinion with several Pacific Island-origin players supporting him, while others, including within the Wallabies camp, have been critical.
Jones has previously railed against free speech being "completely corrupted" in Australia and he let rip again Tuesday.
"Nothing wrong with Israel, it's the society and those who prosecute him who are sick," he said.
Jones added that he was "ashamed" of the sport he loves and that "the battle has just begun".
"Israel Folau, with my support and the support of millions of Australians, will take this fight every inch of the way," he said.
"Rugby union preaches diversity – they really mean uniformity. They preach inclusion but they exclude Israel."
The code of conduct panel could decide to fire Folau, or issue fines or suspensions.
No timescale was given for its decision, with legal experts warning that whatever happens an appeal is likely, potentially followed by a drawn-out court battle.AFP