Monday 19 August 2019

'My faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first' - Israel Folau prepared to walk away from rugby

Israel Folau. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Israel Folau. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Duncan Bech

Israel Folau is unrepentant over the homophobic comments made on social media that Australia head coach Michael Cheika declares have ended his Test career.

Rugby Australia confirmed on Monday morning that it is pressing ahead with plans to terminate Folau's contract after its integrity unit ruled he has committed a "high-level breach of the professional players' code of conduct".

The 30-year-old devout Christian said on his Instagram account last week that "hell awaits" for "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators."

A legal battle with RA could ensue as Folau is refusing to retract divisive remarks that have been liked by a number of international players, including England number eight Billy Vunipola.

Folau, speaking at a Truth Of Jesus Christ Church service in Sydney, stands by his view in posts that remain visible and would rather accept the end of his career than issue a retraction.

"It's obviously a decision that's in the process right now but I believe in a God that's in control of all things," Folau told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Whatever His will is, whether that's to continue playing or not, I'm more than happy to do what He wants me to do."

When asked if the fallout has made him reconsider his comments, Folau replied: "Absolutely not. I'll stand on what the Bible says. I share it with love.

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"I can see the other side of the coin where people's reactions are the total opposite to how I'm sharing it.

"First and foremost, I live for God now. Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think. If that's not to continue on playing, so be it.

"In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I'll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first."

Even if RA are unable to dissolve his contract on legal grounds - Folau has 48 hours to accept the union's breach of contract or refer it to a hearing - then he will not be adding to his 73 caps.

A year ago Folau was warned for making homophobic comments on social media but escaped disciplinary action.

When asked recently if he would pick his most dangerous attacking player, Cheika said: "You wouldn't be able to. We had a discussion after the last time and made it pretty clear about his right to believe and our support in that, if that's what he wants, to be part of the team.

"But getting it out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team is about.

"When you play in the gold jersey we represent everyone in Australia, everyone. Everyone that is out there supporting us, we don't pick and choose."

RA chief executive Raelene Castle insists that Folau is in breach of contract.

"Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations," Castle said.

"It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action."

Folau has been stood down by the Waratahs and his rugby union career in Australia appears over, while a return to his roots in league has been ruled out by the Australian Rugby League.

Clubs in Europe will also be wary of signing a player who comes with considerable baggage and even Toulon have rejected the possibly of offering an escape route out of the crisis that has engulfed him and the sport Down Under.

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