April 17, 2018 / 4:05 AM / a year ago

Rugby Australia accepts Folau meant no harm to rugby with anti-gay remark

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Rugby Australia (RA) said on Tuesday they had accepted Israel Folau’s position that he did not mean to harm the game with his anti-gay remarks posted on social media earlier this month and confirmed that he would face no sanction.

FILE PHOTO: Australia's Israel Folou (L) fends off the challenge of England's Owen Farrell during their international rugby union test match at Twickenham in London, November 2, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Folau, who is an Evangelical Christian, created a firestorm of controversy in Australia, and in rugby circles, after he wrote on his Instagram page that gays would be condemned to “hell” if they failed to “repent”.

His comments were described as “very disappointing” by Qantas airlines, a major sponsor of Rugby Australia, while international referee Nigel Owens, who came out as gay in 2007, said such comments could contribute to young people taking their own lives.

In a column on Monday, Folau explained his rationale for making the remarks and said he had offered to walk away from the sport if RA found itself in an untenable position with sponsors and fans.

RA Chief Executive Raelene Castle, who met with Folau last week to discuss the issue, issued a statement on Tuesday saying the player would not face any sanction from her organisation.

“In his article, Israel clearly articulated his religious beliefs and why his faith is important to him and has provided context behind his social media comment,” Castle said.

“In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game. We accept Israel’s position.”

One of the nation’s top players and most marketable athletes, Folau’s contract expires at the end of the season and RA are keen to extend it beyond next year’s World Cup in Japan.

His New South Wales Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said Folau was free to express his views and that team unity had not been affected.

“We may not all agree with his belief but we support him as a team mate and his right to express that freely,” Gibson told reporters.

“I’ve always said everyone is free to have a range of diverse opinion. That’s the beauty of being a team - we’re not all going to agree on the same thing.”

The Super Rugby side take on South Africa’s Lions in Sydney on Friday.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington and Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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