SYDNEY – Australian rugby league has slammed the door on divisive Wallabies superstar Israel Folau after his latest anti-gay rant, as a video emerged Friday showing him denouncing those who celebrate Easter and Christmas.
The deeply religious 30-year-old was informed Thursday by rugby union bosses that they intend to sack him, barring any “compelling mitigating factors”, following his comment on Instagram that said “hell awaits” homosexuals.
It followed a reprimand last year for similar homophobic sentiments posted by Folau 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.
Japan's rugby captain Michael Leitch posted the following on social media:
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.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)