Australian rugby to sever ties with Christian player Israel Folau over 'hell awaits' gay people comment

Israel Folau is one of the stars of Wallaby rugbyReuters

Australian rugby officials are set to terminate the contract of Christian player Israel Folau after he posted an image to Instagram saying that "hell awaits" gay people.

Also listed on the image were drunks, atheists, liars and thieves.  At the bottom of the list were the words "Repent! Only Jesus saves".  Despite the controversy, the image remains on his Instagram page, where it has garnered over 36,000 likes. 

Folau met with officials from Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union for a private meeting on Friday where it is reported that he said he planned to fight for his four-year contract.  

Following the meeting, the two rugby bodies said their position was unchanged. 

"Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union have met with Israel Folau in Sydney today," they 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 30-year-old Waratahs player escaped similar action last year when he landed in trouble for posting on social media that gay people were going to hell "unless they repent of their sins and turn to God". 

At the time, he defended his comments, saying his faith came before his career. 

"I would sooner lose everything – friends, family, possessions, my football career, the lot – and still stand with Jesus, than have all of those things and not stand beside Him," he said

He was also defended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the then federal treasurer, who said the rugby player was "standing up for his faith". 

However, following his latest social media post, Mr Morrison told ABC News that Folau's comments was "terribly insensitive". 

"It is important that people act with love, care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians," he said. 

The row has spread to England after Saracens player Billy Vunipola liked Folau's post.  He came under pressure to unlike the post but explained in an Instagram update why he was refusing to do so. 

"So this morning I got three phone calls from people telling me to 'unlike' the @izzyfolau post.

"This is my position on it. I don't HATE anyone, neither do I think I'm perfect.

"There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he's saying isn't that he doesn't like or love those people.

"He's saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be.

"Man was made for woman to procreate, that was the goal, no? I'm not perfect. I'm at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life.

"It hurts to know that. But that's why I believe there's a God.

"To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The Rugby Football Union issued a statement on Friday saying that it was to meet Vunipola over his social media posts.

"Rugby is an inclusive sport, and we do not support these views. We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts," its statement said. 

Channel Four also responded on Friday with a statement saying Vunipola had been dropped from their Heineken European Cup coverage

"These views are incompatible with our values as an inclusive broadcaster and in light of this Billy Vunipola won't be used as a contributor in Channel 4's rugby coverage,' the statement read. 

Vunipola's cousin and Wales international Taulupe Faletau also liked Folau's post, while Northampton Saints player Courtney Lawes responded to Vunipola's post by defending his right to express his religious beliefs. 

Lawes posted: "I don't have a faith like yourself my brother so I don't share the same views in this matter but I do believe you should be able to voice your own opinions and beliefs as you see fit.

"To everyone getting worked up about these post I ask you if you don't believe in the same things as them then what do these statements matter to you? Can we not disagree with someone without calling them a bigot or a homophobe or every other name under the sun?

"And by the way If you're going to say you're accepting of everyone then be accepting of everyone, not just the people you agree with."