Folau's ban a formality after he misses appeal deadline

SYDNEY (AP) — Rugby Australia has closed its code of conduct case against Israel Folau after the star fullback missed a deadline to appeal against the termination of his contract.

Folau had 72 hours to appeal after his four-year contract was terminated last Friday, 10 days after an independent panel found the 30-year-old fullback guilty of a high-level breach of the players' code of conduct for a social media post that condemned gay people and other so-called sinners to eternal damnation.

"As Folau has not notified the panel of his intention to appeal, the code of conduct process has now formally concluded," Rugby Australia said in a statement Monday. "With the code of conduct matter complete, Folau's employment contract will be terminated."

Folau has been considering his options, which include court action against Rugby Australia.

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A self-described devout Christian, Folau defended his social media posts by saying he was merely posting references from the bible.

The code of conduct charge sparked debate in Australia about freedom of speech and the right of players to express their beliefs. It also followed a warning Folau received from Rugby Australia last year over a social media post that drew criticism from some rugby followers, including a major sponsor of the game.

In February, Folau signed a contract extension to remain with the Sydney-based New South Wales Waratahs and Australian rugby until the end of 2022. He was set to play an important role in Australia's World Cup campaign, starting in September. Now he'll likely have to look abroad to continue his professional playing career.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said the Rugby Australia contract outlined the expectations of professional players and told a nationally-televised news conference on Friday: "Our clear message to all rugby fans today is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork."

Folau has been the undisputed star in his 73 test matches for the Wallabies since he joined the rugby union ranks following professional contracts in Australian rules football and in rugby league, where he also represented Australia. He also has the record for most tries by any player in the Super Rugby tournament.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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