Earlier this month, Australian rugby player Israel Folau came under fire for claiming homosexuals would go to hell unless they repented. In a newly-penned column for Players Voice, the 29-year-old athlete says he's prepared to walk away from rugby if his "situation [with Rugby Australia] becomes untenable due to his Christian beliefs."
Folau was recently asked by an Instagram follower about God’s “plan for gay people.” In a since-deleted post, Folau replied, “Hell, unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."
The comment was quickly criticized, with some calling for the Wallabies and the New South Wales Waratahs to fire Folau. Last week, he met with rugby officials in Sydney to discuss the league's social-media policy. According to his column, Rugby Australia executive Raelene Castle and Waratahs executive Andrew Hore explained to Folau how his comments resonated with sponsors, media, and the community.
"After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable—that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through—I would walk away from my contract, immediately," Folau wrote. "My faith is more important than my career."
In an interview, Castle called Folau a "strong role model" following their meeting. Rugby Australia has declined to sanction him over the comments.
"In his article, Israel clearly articulated his religious beliefs and why his faith is important to him and has provided context behind his social media comment," said Castle. "In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game. We accept Israel's position."
"He is a great player," she added. "He has delivered some great outcomes for us and has been a really strong role model in the Pacific Islander community and we would like to see he stays in rugby."
This incident isn't the first time Folau has voiced anti-gay beliefs though: Ahead of a national postal survey on marriage equality in Australialast year, Folau tweeted he opposed same-sex marriage.
But in his column, he writes he supports inclusivity.
"Since my social media posts were publicized, it has been suggested that I am homophobic and bigoted and that I have a problem with gay people," he wrote. "This could not be further from the truth. I fronted the cover of the Star Observer magazine to show my support for the Bingham Cup, which is an international gay rugby competition for both men and women. I believe in inclusion. God loves each and every one of us. He just doesn’t love the sin we live in."
Folau’s contract is up at the end of the year, and there's no word if it will be renewed.