Israel Folau homophobia row: Christian rugby star claims he's being persecuted for saying gay people are bound for hell

Australian Christian rugby star Israel Folau has suggested he is being persecuted for his faith after facing intense criticism for suggesting gay people were going to hell.

The Wallabies superstar tweeted a Bible verse with Jesus' words offering reassurance for those who are attacked for following him.

Israel Folau is one of the stars of Wallaby rugby with 62 caps and hopes to be a key part of the team's campaign for the 2019 world cup.Reuters

It comes after Folau, a devout Christian, prompted outrage for suggesting on social media that gay people would go to hell 'unless they repent of their sins and turn to God'.

Questions may be raised about Folau's future as his contract with the New South Wales Warratahs comes to the end at the end of this year and he seemed to contravene Rugby Australia's inclusion policy which says: 'There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this.'

Rugby Australia distanced itself from the comments, saying his 'personal beliefs do not reflect the views of Rugby Australia' and its main sponsor, Qantas, denounced the now deleted comments as 'very disappointing'.

The airline may consider pulling its sponsorship if further homophobic comments are made after its chief executive Alan Joyce has won an award for his campaigning in favour of gay marriage. But the issue is showing no sign of going away as Folau refuses to back down.

'As a sponsor of Rugby Australia, we're supportive of their approach towards tolerance and inclusion, which aligns with our own,' the airline said in a statement.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle is set to meet with Folau on Tuesday to discuss his views as she distanced herself from the comments.

'Israel's comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby,' she said in a statement.

'We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby's inclusion policy.

'We understand that Israel's comment has upset a number of people and we will discuss the matter with him as soon as possible.'

Folau, 29, is a committed Christian and one of rugby's superstars, winning 62 caps for Australia as well as playing for the New South Wales Waratahs. He shared an Instagram post about God's plan for people's lives and made when asked what God's plan was for gay people he said: 'HELL... Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.'

Folau has made no official comment but posted on Twitter on Sunday night: 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

'Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.'

The quote, from Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, is aimed at his followers who would face persecution for their beliefs.