Until Israel Folau repents, Rugby Australia has no choice but to let him go

In the wake of his latest homophobic outburst – gays, among other sinners, are heading to hell once more – Israel Folau has to go, and will go.

Quick. Clean. Gone. At least until such times as he repents.

Israel Folau has exercised his rights to freedom of speech, just as the rest of us have exerted our rights to call him out for it.Credit:AAP

His contract will be suspended or terminated on the grounds of having breached either rugby’s social media policy, or his contract.

Rugby Australia simply has no choice. They cannot go through one more time the agony of last year when Folau’s social media comments trumpeting that gays would go to hell, saw rugby lose sponsors, fans, and support.

Then it took three weeks for Folau to pull his head in, and it seemed like he got it: that you couldn’t be a standard bearer for the inclusive game of rugby and put out bigoted nastiness like that.

This time, it won’t take three weeks. Rugby must surely move quickly, or be made to look ridiculous.

All of the dynamics that applied last year – outrage in the rugby and wider community, people swearing not to go to games, volunteers threatening to leave the game, sponsors looking at tearing up their contracts – apply this year, but there is one difference.

Back then, it seemed it wasn’t clear to Folau what he could and could not do.

After that storm though, he can now be in no doubt … and has done it anyway. Instead of lifting his index finger and pointing to the Lord in thanks as he is wont to do when scoring his many tries – as of last Saturday more tries than anyone in Super Rugby ever – he has effectively lifted his middle finger and showed it to gays, Rugby Australia, the rugby community, sponsors, the lot.

How can Rugby Australia not stand him down in response?

When they do, Folau will be inevitably defended by a certain section of the commentariat and community, spouting his right to "freedom of speech."

They don’t get it.

That would apply if he was being dragged off to prison for his expressed views. He is not.

He has exercised his rights to freedom of speech, just as the rest of us have exerted our rights to call him out for it, and Rugby Australia will be surely exerting its right to ensure that an employee to whom they are paying a reputed two million dollars a year comports himself in a manner that brings people into their tent, and doesn’t drive them away from it.

Rugby Australia will be saying, "You can continue to exert your right to speak, but NOT as our employee, as you disgrace what we stand for."

After the events of last year, it will surely have been written into his contract that he is no longer allowed to post homophobic rants, and therefore rugby’s own right to stand him down should be fairly cut and dried. If it was not written in his contract, Rugby Australia will have a serious case to answer as to why he was signed again without ensuring that their employee couldn’t put them through precisely the same shit-storm as last year.

Either way, the whole affair is madness on the part of Folau, and dangerous madness at that. Beyond matters of money, sponsors, ticket-sales and all the rest, far more important is the impact of having homophobic dogma in the public domain. That impact includes shocking youth suicide rates among teens troubled about their sexuality. This is a serious matter, most of the country gets that and agrees we can no longer tolerate it.

Both rugby union and even more particularly rugby league have been wonderful in recent times in stamping out homophobia within their own ranks. They have done so from both the moral imperative, and a business need. You cannot prosper in a community if you are not reflective of the community’s values.

And one way or another, rugby cannot go on with its most famous current player continuing to thwart that movement. When they sit down with him presumably tomorrow, they will have to put the question to him: do you get that, or not Israel? If not, you have to go, for good.

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