SYDNEY, May 9 (Reuters) - Israel Folau’s protracted dismissal by Rugby Australia looked no closer to a conclusion on Thursday but the 30-year-old was already being hit hard in the pocket for his decision to post a social media message many viewed as homophobic.
While the panel that on Tuesday adjudged Folau had been guilty of a ‘high level’ breach of the code of conduct was still considering what sanction to dole out, global sportswear brand Asics cut their ties with the Wallabies fullback.
“We believe sport is for everyone and we champion inclusivity and diversity,” the company said in a statement.
“While Israel Folau is entitled to his personal views, some of those expressed in recent social media posts are not aligned with those of Asics.
“As such, our partnership with Israel has become untenable and he will no longer represent Asics as a brand ambassador.”
The player’s legal fees are also racking up and, of course, the most likely conclusion of the disciplinary process is still that his A$4 million ($2.79 million), four-year contract with RA and the New South Wales Waratahs will be terminated.
A return to take up a lucrative contract in rugby league, where Folau first made his name as a free-scoring winger, would also appear to have been ruled out.
“The commission’s already made a decision,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said in Brisbane on Wednesday.
“We believe in inclusiveness and that inclusiveness policy would prevent Israel Folau from becoming a registered player in rugby league. That’s final.”
The post that says “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters,” were destined for “hell” and urging them to “repent” remains on Folau’s Instagram feed, having attracted 55,000 “likes” and 50,000 comments.
Wallabies great Nick Farr-Jones spoke to Folau before the hearing and said the player denied he had made a commitment to Rugby Australia not to post such material after he shared a similar message last year.
“When I first met with him ... I was going to encourage him to say ‘look, I apologise. I won’t do it again and can I have another chance’,” Farr-Jones, a committed Christian like Folau, told local TV.
“He doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. I did originally (think he should apologise) had he been told don’t do this again — don’t mention the word hell, for example, awaits these various groups of people.
“But he’s saying he was never instructed that way.”
Folau’s case has triggered a wide debate in Australia about freedom of speech and the power of employers to control their employees away from the workplace.
On Wednesday night it became election fodder with the issue raised in a debate between the two major party leaders ahead of the May 18 national poll.
$1 = 1.4343 Australian dollars Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty