LONDON – Israel Folau's sacking by Rugby Australia over homophobic comments is the correct decision, the openly-gay Test referee Nigel Owens told the BBC on Saturday.
Owens – who came out as homosexual in 2007 – said Rugby Australia's firm action had sent a "clear message" to others who might be tempted to express their beliefs.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, posted a banner on his Instagram account in April that read: "Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you."
"It is an important message from the Australian Rugby Union, who I think have dealt with it properly in the only way that they could," said Owens.
"It is a clear message going out to people that there are consequences for expressing those beliefs, which are very, very hurtful and not acceptable in today's society.
"Rugby is a sport inclusive for all, which means I can be a part of the sport. When you're in that sport you must respect other people within that sport."
The 47-year-old Welshman, who will take part in his fourth World Cup in Japan later this year, said he understood that Folau and others with South Pacific heritage held deep religious views.
"I respect their religion, I respect their beliefs and all I would like to ask is that they respect other people's way of life and try to understand that it's not a choice," said Owens, who took an overdose when he was 26 due to his internal conflict over his sexuality.
"I cannot choose my sexuality; I can choose what religion I follow, I can choose what kind of person I am – I'm a good person – what sport I play. There are many, many things I can choose in life but my sexuality is not one of them, that's what I'd like them to understand.
"It's a shame that it's gone to this and none of us should take any pleasure in the fact that somebody has lost his job and lost his career."AFP