The Australian international was sacked after a social media post in which he said “hell awaits” gay people. The 73-times capped Wallaby full-back had his contract with the Rugby Australia and New South Wales Waratahs ended after being warned following similar comments last year.
The 30-year-old devout Christian of Tongan descent posted on Instagram: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators [sic] – Hell awaits you.”
Hastings, the former Scotland and Lions centre, whose son Corey is gay, tweeted his disapproval of England international Billy Vunipola’s support for Folau’s comments on Saturday from Singapore where he was commentating on the world sevens series event.
The 54-year old Hastings, who played 65 Tests for Scotland and two for the British and Irish Lions between 1986 and 1997, was responding to a tweet by English rugby commentator Nick Heath, who had said “as a gay rugby commentator, I’ve had enough of God-fearing athletes telling me I need to repent for my sins”.
Hastings tweeted: “As a fellow rugby commentator & proud father of Corey Hastings and his husband Daniel Hastings you are absolutely right in what you are saying Nick.
“You should try and encourage the RFU and Billy V to meet you ASAP so he understands the hurt that he and Folau have caused.”
Yesterday Luke Fenton, president of the Edinburgh-based Thebans, who were formed in 2002, said the club were moved by Hastings’ intervention and said: “It shows that rugby is a sport that keeps itself in check from the top and makes us feel protected.”
On the Folau sacking, Fenton said: “It’s good to see that it was dealt with so swiftly. I know there would be pressure from sponsors. He [Folau] was given the opportunity to apologise and didn’t take it, which is disappointing, because he is a cracking rugby player for sure.
“But rugby is an inclusive sport, I think stats back up that when it comes to gender, race, religion, sexuality it is the most inclusive game around with great values and it’s rare to come across bigotry, unlike in football where it seems to be every week.”
An official statement on the Thebans’ Facebook page said: “The Caledonian Thebans welcome and celebrate the decision taken by the Rugby Australia and New South Wales Rugby Union to denounce hate speech against the LGBTIQ+ community.
“The actions of Israel Folau are indicative of the fragility of the progress made towards equality for the LGBTIQ+ and the risks of complacency… Rugby is a sport of inclusivity.”
Thebans play their rugby in East Reserve League Division 2, with their home currently at Edinburgh’s Roseburn Park near the national stadium of BT Murrayfield.
Fenton said that, in contrast with many clubs across the country, playing numbers are surging with hopes the Thebans may soon be in a position to field a second XV. He thanked the support they have received from the SRU and Murrayfield Wanderers.
Vunipola has been formally warned about his future conduct by Saracens after the England No 8, who is also of Tongan heritage, defended Folau.
The forward posted a message on the social media website on Friday that included the line “Man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?”.
Folau has 48 hours to accept the union’s breach of contract or refer it to a hearing, which would bring an end to his international career.