Israel Folau's rugby future to be decided in weekend hearing
A boardroom meeting at Rugby Australia's headquarters in the leafy Moore Park area of Sydney will determine the playing future of Wallabies star Israel Folau.
The meeting will be held Saturday only a stone's throw from Sydney Football Stadium, where Folau often showed off his incredible talents as a member of the New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby. The stadium, which opened just months before Folau was born, is now being dismantled to make way for a new facility, and Folau's rugby career could be heading in the same direction.
The 30-year-old outside back will appear before a code of conduct hearing to fight Rugby Australia's decision to terminate his contract after he posted in mid-April on social media that gay people, along with other "sinners," will face damnation unless they repent.
It was the second time in a year that Folau, a devout Christian, has made anti-gay comments. Last year, Rugby Australia issued a warning but no punishment. In April, Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle wasn't as forgiving.
Castle said that while Folau was 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."
"Israel has failed to understand ... that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality," Castle said, adding that Rugby Australia intended to terminate his contract.
Folau will face a three-person code of conduct panel chaired by Sydney lawyer John West. The panel also includes Rugby Australia representative Kate Eastman and Rugby Union Players Association representative John Boultbee.
Justin Gleeson, the former solicitor-general of Australia, will be Rugby Australia's counsel at the hearing.
An extra day has been set aside in case the hearing has to go into Sunday. It is not known whether a ruling will be announced immediately after the meeting, or if the panel will reserve its decision until a later date.
Since Folau's remarks, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he would not choose Folau to play for Australia, which would have likely included an appearance the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year. And several players said they could not see themselves lining up in the same XV as Folau.
Australian airline Qantas, a national team sponsor, issued a statement following Folau's remarks that his comments "clearly don't reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support."
Folau has played 73 test matches for Australia. In his most-recent match for the Waratahs, Folau scored his 60th try, the most of any player in Super Rugby, breaking the record of former New Zealand winger Doug Howlett.
Folau, born in the southern Sydney suburb of Minto to Tongan parents, has also played rugby league for Australia and top-flight Australian Rules football, and is generally regarded as one of the best multi-talented athletes the country has ever produced.
In February, Folau signed a multimillion-dollar contract extension to remain with the Waratahs and Australian rugby until the end of 2022. Just three months later, Folau finds himself in danger of having no future in the sport.