Sydney – Rugby Australia said on Tuesday it would not sanction Israel Folau for controversial anti-gay comments posted on social media as the Wallabies superstar revealed he was willing to walk away from the sport over his religious beliefs.
Folau, a devout Christian and one of the code’s most marketable players, wrote on social media this month that God’s plan for gay people was hell unless they repented their sins.
“Rugby Australia will not sanction Israel Folau for his comment posted on a social media platform on April 4,” said a statement from the sport’s governing body.
The decision came after Folau defended the post late on Monday on www.playersvoice.com.au, a website for sportspeople to air their views, saying he had written them “honestly and from the heart”.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am not the type to upset people intentionally,” the 29-year-old wrote, adding that suggestions he was homophobic and bigoted “could not be further from the truth”.
Folau also hit out at Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle for her comments about him after he was summoned to a meeting with the governing body, which has an inclusion policy to stop discrimination, over his anti-gay remarks.
Castle had said the star had agreed to “think about” the impact of his posts and had acknowledged his comments could have been made “in a more respectful way”.
“I felt Raelene misrepresented my position and my comments, and did so to appease other people, which is an issue I need to discuss with her and others at Rugby Australia,” he wrote.
Despite Folau’s criticism of Castle, the rugby chief said on Tuesday that “we accept Israel’s position” and that the players voice post “provided context behind his social media comment”.
“In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game,” she said in a statement.
“Rugby Australia will use this experience as an opportunity to remind all employees of their obligation to use social media in a respectful way.”
Folau also revealed he told Castle he was ready to walk away from his contract immediately “if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through”.
The offer to break the contract, which finishes this year, was not in order that he could return to rugby league, Folau added, amid speculation that several National Rugby League (NRL) clubs were interested in signing him.
“At no stage over the past two weeks have I wanted that to happen,” he added.
“This is not about money or bargaining power or contracts. It’s about what I believe in and never compromising that, because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be.”
Rugby Australia have been trying to balance their desire to re-sign Folau with the demands of leading sponsors including national airline Qantas, who made it clear to the governing body that it was not happy with Folau’s posting.
New South Wales Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said he wanted his player to stay in the code, adding that he knew discussions were continuing between Rugby Australia and Folau.
“We want Israel to stay in rugby, he enjoys the game and so our immediate concern is making sure he stays in rugby,” Gibson told reporters on Tuesday.
“There hasn’t been a timeframe put on those discussions.”
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg added last week that Folau’s anti-gay remarks would not be tolerated if he opts to switch codes to league.
Folau played in Australia’s NRL from 2007-10, and moved to Aussie Rules for two years before switching codes again, this time to union, by signing with the Waratahs.