MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Super Rugby players from the Melbourne Rebels and the Queensland Reds huddled for a post-match prayer on Friday amid reports of anger among the game’s Christians over the handling of the Israel Folau social media furore.
Wallabies fullback Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, moved a step closer to being sacked by Rugby Australia (RA) this week after he was found to have committed a “high-level” code of conduct breach for a post that said hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and others.
The case has upset a number of Folau’s Wallabies team mates who share his religious beliefs, with Reds prop Taniela Tupou writing that RA “might as well sack… all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world.”
Sydney newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported earlier on Friday that Reds and Rebels players had proposed to gather for prayer on field at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium in a “show of solidarity” for Folau.
Following the Rebels’ 30-24 win over the Reds, players from both sides knelt on the pitch with arms locked in a circle as Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa addressed the group with emotion.
The huddle included a number of Australia players, including Queensland captain Samu Kerevi, his Reds team mate Sefa Naivalu and another Wallabies winger in Melbourne’s Marika Koroibete.
Folau faced a three-member panel over three days of hearings.
The panel issued its verdict on Tuesday and said it would consider further submissions before issuing a sanction.
The judgement came more than three weeks after RA and Folau’s Super Rugby club New South Wales Waratahs said they intended to terminate his four-year contract.
Folau has a right to appeal but a high-level breach would be sufficient for RA and the Waratahs to dismiss the 73-test back.
Folau’s trial has stretched far beyond the rugby pitch, triggering a wider debate in Australia about freedom of speech and the power of employers to control their employees away from the workplace.
The offending post, which has attracted 54,000 ‘likes’ and 48,000 comments, remains on Folau’s Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/izzyfolau.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Christian Radnedge)