No Rugby AU sanction for Folau over social media use

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by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia has opted against sanctioning Israel Folau for a controversial Instagram comment, the organisation confirmed on Tuesday.

Folau published a piece on sports website PlayersVoice on Monday night, to ‘provide some context’ around an Instagram comment that said God’s plan for gay people was ‘HELL...unless they repent their sins and turn to God’.

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle, who met with NSW Rugby CEO Andrew Hore and Folau over the issue last week, said they weren't going to punish Folau over any of his comments.

“In his article, Israel clearly articulated his religious beliefs and why his faith is important to him and has provided context behind his social media comment," Castle said in a statement.

“In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game. We accept Israel’s position.

“Rugby Australia will use this experience as an opportunity to remind all employees of their obligation to use social media in a respectful way."

The states have been involved in Raelene Castles' appointment. Photo: Getty ImagesThe 29-year-old revealed in the column that he had offered to walk away from the sport in a meeting with Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and NSW Rugby CEO Andrew Hore last week.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson says he wants Israel Folau to stay in rugby, though conceded that Rugby Australia had the major say in that.

Gibson said he wanted Folau, who is off-contract at the end of 2018, to stay in rugby, but that those conversations were initially, at least, between the Test star and the national body.

Rugby Australia is yet to publicly respond to Folau’s article, though after their meeting last week, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said they still wanted Folau to stick with the sport.

It is unclear exactly what the organisation’s next step will be after Monday night.

"We want Israel to stay in rugby, he enjoys the game and so our immediate concern is making sure he stays in rugby,” he said.

“That's not for me to decide (whether he walks away).

“I know those discussions are ongoing and the dialogue between Rugby Australia and Israel are continuing.

“There hasn't been a timeframe put on those discussions. Those are questions for Rugby Australia.”

Daryl Gibson says Rugby AU and clubs should be open to flexible contracts. Photo; Getty ImagesGibson said Folau had told the club about the article ahead of time, with the Waratahs coach accepting of Folau’s freedom to hold and express his religious beliefs.

“I think it was a very balanced article, certainly explains his point of view, gives us all a greater understanding of his perspective,” he said.

“Certainly we've never held anyone from expressing their point of view.

“I guess for us the education point in all of this is being really clear on when to articulate your view and choose your forum.

“We were aware that he really wanted to get out and give people a further understanding of his position and what he believes in and where that comes from.”

Some of Folau’s current and former teammates have publicly supported Folau’s comments but Gibson said the team was all understanding of Folau, regardless of their views on the topic.

“I've always said that everyone's free to have a range of diverse opinions, that's the duty of being in a team, we're not all going to agree on the same thing and again all players are free to express themselves in the way they see fit,” he said.

“What I have been really impressed with is the team have supported Israel.

“We may not all agree with his belief, but we support him as a teammate and his right to express that freedom.”

Tom Robertson and the Waratahs are looking at a new scrum philosophy. Photo: Getty ImagesWaratahs prop Tom Robertson said the events hadn’t distracted the team.

“I guess it hasn't really come up, to be honest,” he said.

“Everyone's got different opinions about that sort of stuff.

“Talking to Israel and knowing him as a person, I know he would never say anything like that to hurt someone or do that in a malicious way. I think I have better things to talk to Israel about. 

“His wife's competing at the Commonwealth Games, or she's just finished, so, I’m more interested in that than some comment he said on Facebook or whatever it was.”

On-field, Folau will not play this Friday against the Lions, still recovering from a hamstring injury.