Israel Folau, Australia’s best-known and best-paid rugby union player, is to have his contract terminated after posting a meme on social media that said gay people would go to “hell” if they did not “repent”, Rugby Australia said on Thursday.
The 30-year-old fullback, a fundamentalist Christian, posted similar comments last year but escaped sanction and signed a new deal through 2022 with RA in February.
That multi-million dollar contract looks certain to be torn up unless Folau can convince RA and the New South Wales Waratahs that there are “compelling mitigating factors” for his posts.
A statement from RA Chief Executive Raelene Castle and her Waratahs equivalent Andrew Hore said they had made “repeated attempts” to contact Folau since he posted the comments on Wednesday afternoon.
“Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts,” the statement added.
“As a code we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.
“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”
The unprecedented move will throw into disarray Australia coach Michael Cheika’s plans for the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.
Folau has been all but ever-present in the Wallabies number 15 shirt since switching to rugby union from Australian Rules in 2013 and scoring two tries on his test debut against the British and Irish Lions.
He has scored 35 more tries in 72 tests since and helped Australia to the final of the 2015 World Cup in England, where they were beaten by New Zealand.
An elusive and dangerous runner, Folau helped the Waratahs to the Super Rugby title in 2014 and only last weekend became the highest career try-scorer in the competition when he crossed for his 60th five-pointer.
Folau has had previous lucrative offers to play in Europe and Japan but his stated desire to remain in Australia makes his most likely destination a move back to rugby league, a code in which he represented Australia at the start of his career.