SYDNEY. — Wallabies fullback Israel Folau yesterday formally challenged Rugby Australia’s decision to sack him over anti-gay social media posts, thrusting the sport into further turmoil ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
The latest showdown with the devoutly religious 30-year-old — who last year was embroiled in a similar row — came after he posted on his Instagram account that “Hell awaits” homosexuals.
Rugby Australia responded last week by announcing its intention to terminate Folau’s multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract to play for the Wallabies and Super Rugby’s Waratahs.
After a fruitless meeting with the player on Friday, the governing body declared Folau in breach of the sport’s code of conduct and said he would be sacked unless he referred the case to a formal hearing, which he did yesterday.
The hearing, before representatives of Rugby Australia, the professional players association and an independent figure, is likely to be delayed by a series of public holidays over the next two weeks, extending the headache for the sport’s leaders in Australia.
Folau, Super Rugby’s all-time top try scorer, had been expected to play a crucial role for the Wallabies at the World Cup beginning in September in Japan, after Rugby Australia signed him to a Aus$4 million (US$2.9 million) four-year contract in February.
But following Folau’s latest comments, Rugby Australia made it clear his presence in the sport was no longer tenable, while Wallabies coach Michael Cheika declared that he would not pick the player, who just two weeks ago became the leading try scorer in Super Rugby. National team sponsor Qantas also condemned the player’s social media stance.
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle, who yesterday acknowledged Folau’s hearing request was “not an unexpected outcome”, had last year come under fire for allowing the player to escape sanctions for earlier anti-gay posts.
Source : The Herald