SYDNEY (Reuters) - Israel Folau had a meeting with Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union to discuss his social media posts on Friday but the governing bodies said they still intended to terminate his contract.
The 30-year-old fullback, one of Australia’s few genuinely world class players, was informed on Thursday he would be sacked if he could offer no good reason for a social media post that said gay people would go to “hell” if they did not “repent”.
RA and NSWRU considered the post to be discriminatory and said the multi-million dollar contract Folau signed in February would be torn up.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, has maintained a public silence since posting the meme on Instagram late on Wednesday but finally made contact with his employers on Friday.
“Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union have met with Israel Folau in Sydney today,” the bodies said in a statement.
“As the meeting was held in confidence between the player and his employers, Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union will not comment on the discussions at the meeting.
“Following today’s meeting the two organisations will update their respective Boards on the matter to consider next steps.
“Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged.”
The sacking of Folau would throw the plans of Australia coach Michael Cheika into disarray with only three months to go until the Rugby World Cup.
The New South Wales Waratahs have no fixture this week but said in a statement late on Friday that the top try-scorer of all time in Super Rugby had in any case been “stood down from all player duties” until further notice.
Folau escaped sanction when he posted similar comments last year but RA took a much harder line when, having repeatedly warned him against it, the player repeated the offence.
The fallout continued on Friday with numerous media columnists opining on what the decision meant for the country and politicians wading in.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is a Pentecostal Christian like Folau, said whether to sack him or not was a decision for only the rugby authorities to make.
“Israel’s comments were insensitive and it’s important that when you’re in public life, you’re just very mindful of being sensitive to other Australians and that you speak with that empathy,” he said.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the bodies had made the correct decision.
“There is no freedom to perpetuate hateful speech,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“Some of the comments which have been seen are far closer to hateful than I think appropriate for what people should be doing on social media.”
Former Wallabies coach turned radio host Alan Jones said the decision endangered free speech in Australia and had been driven by RA’s concern not to upset sponsors.
“It has nothing to do with Israel, or rugby, or religion, homosexuals, or whatever. Where are we in this country on free speech?” he said.
“We’ve got an issue here because we’re going down a very, very narrow road here.”
Folau’s chances of switching back to rugby league in Australia were also dashed late on Thursday with the governing body the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) ruling out any return to the sport.
“Israel Folau doesn’t pass our inclusiveness culture, which is a policy strongly supported by the ARLC,” its chairman Peter Beattie told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“And after talking to some commissioners tonight (Thursday), we don’t support him playing rugby league again.”
His best chances therefore lie offshore, although the chances of joining French club Toulon appear to be non-existent with their outspoken owner Mourad Boudjellal criticising him in an interview in French newspaper L’Equipe.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury