Israel Folau: Sacking by Australia sends clear message, says referee Nigel Owens

Full-back Israel Folau has played 62 Tests for Australia and scored 32 tries
Full-back Israel Folau has played 62 Tests for Australia and scored 32 tries

International rugby referee Nigel Owens has praised the stance of Rugby Australia in sacking Israel Folau.

The full-back, 30, has had his contract terminated after saying "hell awaits" gay people in a social media post.

Welshman Owens, who came out as gay in 2009, said it was crucial to make clear that rugby is an inclusive sport.

"It is an important message from the Australian Rugby Union, who I think have dealt with it properly in the only way that they could," he told Radio 4.

"It is a clear message going out to people that there are consequences for expressing those beliefs, which are very, very hurtful and not acceptable in today's society.

"Rugby is a sport inclusive for all, which means I can be a part of the sport. When you're in that sport you must respect other people within that sport."

Nigel Owens refereed the 2015 World Cup final between Israel Folau's Australia and New Zealand
Nigel Owens refereed the 2015 World Cup final between Israel Folau's Australia and New Zealand

Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, posted a banner on his Instagram account in April that read: "Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators - Hell awaits you."

He was told his contract would be terminated but requested a hearing, at which the decision to sack him was upheld by a three-person panel that found him guilty of a "high level breach" of RA's player code of conduct.

Folau, who had an RA deal until 2022, has 72 hours to appeal against the ruling and is considering his options.

England number eight Billy Vunipola was given a formal warning by the Rugby Football Union after he defended Folau's social media post.

Owens, who will officiate at his fourth World Cup in Japan this year, said he hoped the incident would foster a better understanding of different lifestyles.

"I respect their religion, I respect their beliefs and all I would like to ask is that they respect other people's way of life and try to understand that it's not a choice," Owens added.

"I cannot choose my sexuality; I can choose what religion I follow, I can choose what kind of person I am - I'm a good person - what sport I play. There are many, many things I can choose in life but my sexuality is not one of them, that's what I'd like them to understand.

"It's a shame that it's gone to this and none of us should take any pleasure in the fact that somebody has lost his job and lost his career."

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