A number of rugby players have called out Australian international Israel Folau following his homophobic comments on Instagram, with New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern also condemning his claim that all gay people will go to hell.
Rugby Australia and his club, the New South Wales Waratahs, confirmed on Thursday their “intention to terminate his contract” after the 73-cap Australia international failed to respond to attempts to contact him, ruling him out of this year’s Rugby World Cup and ending his Australia career unless “compelling mitigating factors” can be provided.
Folau has faced a fierce backlash from the rugby community and beyond for posting a message on Instagram on Wednesday that claimed that “Hell awaits you” for “Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, and Atheists” in a religious-based tirade.
Following a similar incident last April when Folau claimed homosexuals will go to “HELL, unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”, sponsor pressure led to RA tightening the social media guidelines within his new contract, which still had more than three years to run.
But the story has now moved beyond the rugby world, with Ms Ardern speaking out on Thursday over her concerns for what Folau’s comments say to the LGBTQ community.
"Obviously at a personal level I clearly don't agree with what he said, and [I'm] very mindful of the fact that he is for many a role model,” Ms Ardern said. “He's a person in a position of influence and I think that with that comes responsibility.
"I'm particularly mindful of young people who are members of our rainbow community, there is a lot of vulnerability there. As I say, I totally disagree with what he's said and the way he's using his platform.
"Ultimately these are matters for Australia, not for us, but we can hold our views on what he's said."
RA were particularly concerned about the impact his comments will have with their commercial partners as well as the image it portrayed of the union, with main shirt sponsor Qantas labelling this incident as “really disappointing” at a time when they are in negotiations with RA over renewing their deal that ends this year.
However, Folau has also been emphatically condemned by his fellow rugby players. Harlequins and former England prop Joe Marler sent two tweets to Folau that both featured two men kissing each other to troll the Wallaby international, while James Haskell labelled him a “f****** misinformed bigot” who was “spreading hate”.
“This is the biggest load of s*** I have ever read,” Haskell said on Twitter. “Sport has no place for this crap. Keep it to hate groups @IzzyFolau , you aren’t spreading the lords word. You are spreading hate.
“You are an unreal player, but a f****** misinformed bigot.”
Japan captain Michael Leitch also sent an impassioned video to Folau on Twitter to label Folau a “bully” and condemn his views, with the flanker calling for the Australian to do something to make up for his actions by apologising.
“We can’t accept this kind of behaviour,” Leitch said. “I don’t know exactly what I want to say but I’m not politically correct – I’m not smart on those types of things – but when I see a bully, the first thing I have to do is call them out and I think I’m calling you out for the right reasons.
“Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong I’m not sure, but I think the comments and post that you’ve made is wrong and I think you should make a comment and apologise or do something to make amends because I think you’re a fantastic player, there’s no doubt about that and I’m sure you’re a nice guy but the way you’re doing it is wrong.”
Former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Gareth Thomas added: “I don’t write this with hate or anger after Israel Folau’s comments. I write with sympathy. To everyone who reads it, don’t be influenced by his words. Be the better person and be YOU. Whoever YOU is. Hell doesn’t await YOU. Happiness awaits YOU.”
And former Saracens and South Africa prop Petrus du Plessis added: “How does Israel Folau get away with his Instagram posts...? #bell.”
Folau could further his rugby union career in Europe if any clubs deem him worth the backlash that would come with a contract offer, while he could also seek to return to either rugby league or Australian Rules following past stints in the code.
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