Australian rugby union star Israel Folau has been sacked after he posted an anti-gay statement on social media.
A devout Christian who has made 73 international appearances for the Wallabies, Folau was found guilty of a code of conduct breach last week, following a homophobic social media post, which listed “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters,” reading underneath, “Hell awaits you.”
The controversial Instagram post in April has not been deleted.
A three-person tribunal decided on Friday that Folau’s contract with Rugby Australia should be terminated.
In a statement after his sacking was confirmed by Rugby Australia, Folau said he was “deeply saddened” by the outcome.
“It has been a privilege and an honor to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love,” he stated.
“I am deeply saddened by today’s decision to terminate my employment and I am considering my options.
“As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression.
“The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God’s word. Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club or country.”
He has 72 hours to appeal the decision.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Rugby Australia chief executive officer Raelene Castle added: “This is a decision that will change the landscape for sport in Australia and possibly across the world … we wanted to make sure we took the time to get the decision right.
“While Rugby Australia accepts the panel’s decision directing termination of Israel Folau’s contract for his high-level breach of the code of conduct, we want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game.
“In rugby, there is not a place for someone that puts their views or position in front of everyone else’s.
“That is true of every employee that we have at Rugby Australia, not just the player base, every employee for Rugby Australia, we all need to work together and lived to the values of Rugby Australia.”
Folau’s multi-million dollar contract with Rugby Australia would have run until 2022, but the ruling effectively ends his rugby career.
Folau was also dropped as a brand ambassador by sportswear brand Asics in the aftermath, with the company describing its partnership with the 30-year-old as “untenable”.
Speaking at a church service in Sydney on the Sunday after the comments appeared on his social media platforms, Folau described the situation as “very challenging”, but revealed there had been “opportunities to potentially make the situation a little bit easier,” comparing a return to rugby to “the way that Satan works”.
“I could probably go back and be able to play the game and get everything back to the way it used to be,” said Folau in a video posted on Facebook by The Truth of Jesus Christ Church Sydney.
“The way that Satan works, he offers you stuff that could look good to the eye and makes you feel comfortable. And if you go down that path, all the worries and troubles will go away.”
But he added: “When we come to Christ it’s no longer our will any more. It’s always the will of God that comes first.”