Australia’s rugby players’ union announced plans on Tuesday for a review into religious expression in the game, after the divisive sacking of Israel Folau for homophobic comments on social media.
The devoutly Christian fullback’s career in Australia was officially ended on Monday after opting not to appeal the verdict of a tribunal that found him guilty of a “high level” breach of the goevrning body’s code of conduct.
Super Rugby’s record try-scorer said he had “no confidence” in the appeal process and hinted that he may take the case to the courts, insisting his religious beliefs should not prevent him from playing for the NSW Waratahs or the Wallabies.
The issue pitted the 30-year-old’s right to express his faith against restrictions on hate speech, with Rugby Australia arguing his views breached its policy of inclusiveness.
Many in the game, particularly Polynesian players, share Folau’s staunch Christianity and have voiced fears that their beliefs were under attack.
The Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) said the governing body had no clear or specific parameters specifying how it expects players to express their religion.
“To address this, RUPA will immediately establish and undertake an Expression of Faith and Beliefs Review alongside its players, incorporating advice from those with and without strong religious beliefs,” it said in a statement.
The union said it aimed to hold a first meeting at the end of the Super Rugby season, and urged Rugby Australia to take part.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle has insisted players are free to express their faith, but must do so “in a respectful way”.
The union said it would continue to aid Folau.
“This is a sad outcome for Israel, his family, friends, teammates, opponents and all associated with rugby in Australia and around the world,” it said.
“RUPA will continue to support Israel to ensure that he, (wife) Maria and their broader family receive any personal support they need in this difficult transition from Australian rugby.”