Channel 4 drops rugby star Billy Vunipola after homophobia row

Billy Vunipola catches the ball during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on March 13, 2019 in Bagshot, England.

England rugby star Billy Vunipola has been dropped by Channel 4 after he defended Instagram posts warning gay people “hell awaits you.”

The player came under scrutiny after liking a controversial Instagram post from Australia player Israel Folau, who was sacked on Thursday (April 11) for warning “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” that “hell awaits” unless they “repent.”

Vunipola, who plays for the Saracens and the England national team, later made his own post defending Folau, adding: “There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people.

“He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no?”

The comments were enough for Channel 4 to cut ties with the player, who had been signed up as the face of its European rugby coverage.

Channel 4 drops England rugby star Billy Vunipola

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said: “These views are incompatible with our values as an inclusive broadcaster and in light of this Billy Vunipola won’t be used as a contributor in Channel 4’s rugby coverage.”

A spokesperson for England’s Rugby Football Union said: “Rugby is an inclusive sport and we do not support these views.

“We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts.”

England's number 8 Billy Vunipola attends the captain's run training session at Twickenham stadium in south west London on March 15, 2019.

England’s number 8 Billy Vunipola attends the captain’s run training session at Twickenham stadium in south west London on March 15, 2019. (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The Saracens have also distanced themselves from the comments, though the team said the matter would be “handled internally.”

A spokesperson for the club said: “We recognise that people have different belief systems and we expect everyone to be treated equally with respect and humility.

“As representatives and role models, Saracens players have a responsibility not only to themselves but to the club and wider society.

“Billy Vunipola’s recent social media posts are inconsistent with this and we take this matter very seriously. It will be handled internally.”

Israel Folau was sacked over his posts

Folau was dropped from the Australian national team and in the New South Wales Waratahs on Thursday (April 11), with a joint statement revealing their repeated attempts to contact the player had been unsuccessful.

The joint statement read: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.

“Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”