After Christian rugby player Israel Folau was sacked for verbalizing his opposition to homosexuality, the rugby players' union (RUPA) set up a committee to review how players can express their faith and beliefs.
On Monday, RUPA called the decision to terminate Folau’s four-year contract "a sad outcome for Israel, his family, friends, teammates, opponents and all associated with rugby in Australia and around the world."
“RUPA’s first and foremost priority is the wellbeing of all professional Rugby players in Australia, past and present. RUPA will continue to support Israel to ensure that he, Maria and their broader family receive any personal support they need in this difficult transition from Australian Rugby,” the statement continues.
Rugby Australia (RA), RUPA said, had not yet provided any clear parameters to the players specifying how it expects them to express their faith and beliefs in a way it considers acceptable.
"To address this, RUPA will immediately establish and undertake an Expression of Faith & Beliefs Review alongside its' players, incorporating advice from those with and without strong religious beliefs," RUPA said.
The group said it plans to hold the first meeting of the review committee when the Super Rugby and World Sevens series seasons ended.
“We will also invite both a Rugby Australia and a Super Rugby representative to participate in this RUPA-led Review, and we wholeheartedly urge them to take us up on this offer of collaboration and to contribute to a landscape with clearly established guidelines for players, which players can have confidence in.”
The controversy over Folau’s faith erupted on April 10 after he shared a scriptural message on social media that Hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, [and] idolaters” who do not repent.
“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,” Folau shared on Instagram, along with a series of Bible verses on sin and repentance.
Folau refused to back down amid backlash, stating: "I'll stand on what the Bible says. I share it with love. I can see the other side of the coin where people's reactions are the total opposite to how I'm sharing it."
After a week long code of conduct hearing in Sydney, a three-person panel last week decided to terminate Folau’s $4 million contract.
In the statement, RUPA said it “appreciates the difficult position which this incident has placed on Israel's teammates and the broader professional playing group, and we will continue to support each RUPA member.”
"RUPA remains proud of its diverse playing group and is committed to empowering and supporting each of its members to have conviction to express their faith and beliefs confidently,” it continued.
"Clearly, there remains a great deal of work to be done in relation to this subject, but what remains paramount and a non-negotiable is empowering all of RUPA's members to feel confident in understanding their rights and their responsibilities when expressing their faith and beliefs."
Folau received support from former Australia coach Alan Jones in the wake of his firing. Jones noted that RA's decision “prompts you to wonder what kind of society we’re living in.”
“The Australian people won’t accept this,” he added, according to MSN. “This is not the Australia our veterans fought for and we’re going to have to take our country back by argument and by the democratic and peaceful process — not by hate and revenge or vilification and intimidation.”
Jones noted that “if we’re not free to articulate our religious beliefs and quote from the Bible, and if we’re not free to speak for fear that someone affects a hurt or is part of the offense industry, if that’s where we’ve reached in this country, we’ve reached a dark place and we are all at risk.”
On Monday, Folau suggested he’s likely to take RA to court over the decision.
“My decision not to commence Rugby Australia’s appeal process is in no way an acceptance of the judicial panel’s findings,” said Folau in a statement addressing his decision not to appeal the termination of his contract, Yahoo Sports Australia reports.
“I simply do not have confidence in Rugby Australia’s ability to treat me fairly or lawfully throughout this process,” he continued. “I believe I still have a lot of rugby left in me and the potential impact of Rugby Australia’s decision on my reputation and my career is substantial.
“Ultimately, I need to do what is best for my family, my teammates and the fans, so I am considering all potential avenues open to me.”