England prop Joe Marler appeared to mock Israel Folau by posting images on Twitter of men kissing each other and tagging in the Australia full-back.
Folau faces an uncertain future in rugby after it was announced his Australia and New South Wales contracts are set to be terminated due to discriminatory remarks made on social media.
Folau has written on his Instagram account in a post that is still visible that “hell awaits” for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators.”
The gifted Wallabies full-back, who is a practising Christian, was warned last year for making homophobic comments on social media but escaped disciplinary action.
On this occasion, however, Rugby Australia and New South Wales have reacted by revealing their intent to cancel the lucrative four-year contract he signed in January after repeated attempts to contact him failed.
Marler responded with his Twitter posts. Marler’s Harlequins team-mate Tim Visser, the Scotland winger gave his approval by tweeting: “Bloody lovely Joe”.
If, as expected, Folau is exiled from rugby union in Australia then Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika must plan for the autumn’s World Cup without one of his most dangerous and experienced players.
And the prospect of returning to league where he began his career appears to be closed after Australian Rugby League chairman Peter Beattie stated he would not be welcome in the rival code. With his options dwindling, a spell in European club rugby would offer a possible route into employment.
Rugby Australia released a robust statement declaring Folau’s decision to publish his views on Instagram was unacceptable.
“As a code we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action,” the statement read. “In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.
“Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have made repeated attempts to contact Israel both directly and via his representatives since 6.30pm on Wednesday, and at this point he has failed to communicate directly with either organisation. Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts. Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”
Folau was reminded of his social media obligations by Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle last year and these latest remarks come at a time when the union is renegotiating its deal with main sponsor Qantas.
The 30-year-old said on Instagram: “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
International Gay Rugby, the global organisation for gay and inclusive rugby clubs, welcomed the news.
Ben Owen, the chair of the group, said: “When someone like Folau makes statements like this, it sends a message that members of the LGBT community are less-than and it can have irreparable harm.
“On behalf of our gay and inclusive rugby community, we hope the decision made today sends a clear message to the world, that any kind of discrimination has no place in our sport.”
England prop Joe Marler appeared to mock Folau by posting images on Twitter of men kissing each other and tagging in the Australia full-back.