Major sponsor quits rugby player Israel Folau over anti-LGBT posts

In this handout image provided by ASICS, Israel Folau poses at the 2015 Australian Wallabies Rugby World Cup jersey launch at Allianz Stadium on June 10, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.

A major sponsor has ended its ties with Australian rugby player Israel Folau a day after he was found guilty of breach of contract for posting anti-LGBT social media posts.

Sportswear brand Asics, a leading sponsor of the Australian national rugby team the Wallabies, cited differences in their views as a reason for the decision.

“We champion inclusivity and diversity,” the statement read, quoted in BBC. “While Israel Folau is entitled to his personal views, some of those expressed in recent social media posts are not aligned with those of Asics.”

It added: “As such, our partnership with Israel has become untenable and he will no longer represent Asics as a brand ambassador.”

Asics is now the second sponsor to abandon Folau due to his anti-LGBT posts—Land Rover withdrew a luxury car issued to the player in April 2018, after he prompted outrage by saying gay people were going to hell “unless they repent of their sins.”

A general view of the Rugby Australia building during Rugby Australia's code of conduct hearing into social media posts by Israel Folau, at Rugby Australia HQ in Moore Park on May 04, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.

A general view of the Rugby Australia building during Rugby Australia’s code of conduct hearing into social media posts by Israel Folau.(Matt King/Getty)

The athlete, who plays for both the Wallabies and the New South Wales Waratahs, was judged to have committed a “high-level breach” of Rugby Australia’s code of conduct at a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday (May 7).

Rugby Australia and New South Wales Rugby both declared they’d fire the 30-year-old player on April 11, the day after he published the posts, for breaching a code of conduct forbidding players from engaging in discriminatory practices.

The rugby star, who is Christian, posted messages on Instagram and Twitter telling “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” that “hell awaits” unless they “repent.”

In his tweet, he referred specifically to Tasmania passing sweeping reforms to permit people 16 or older to change their registered gender, removing requirements for transgender people to undergo surgery in order to have their legal gender recognised.

Folau’s contract was terminated on April 15 and he was given 48 hours to accept his firing or face a code of conduct hearing.

Australian political leaders asked about Israel Folau during debate

The debate over Folau’s behaviour has engulfed Australia, entering the political debate ahead of the country’s federal election, scheduled for May 18.

During the final leaders’ debate on Wednesday (May 8), Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed support for both freedom of speech and employers’ rights to enforce punishment for contract breaches, while Labor leader Bill Shorten expressed sympathy for Folau.

“I think he is entitled to his views, and he shouldn’t suffer an employment penalty.”

— Australian Labor Party leader Bill Shorten

“On one hand, I think Israel Folau is entitled to his views, and he shouldn’t suffer an employment penalty for it. So I’m uneasy about that part of it,” Shorten said, quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald.

He added: “People putting out on social media that if you’re gay you’re going to go to hell, you know, I get that’s what he genuinely believes. But when you’re a public figure, that has negative impact, a hurtful impact on other people.”

New Zealand too has been closely following the case, as Folau is married to Kiwi netball player Maria Folau.

“Obviously on a personal I clearly don’t agree with what he said. I am very mindful of the fact that for many, he is a role model. He is a person in a position of influence and I think with that comes responsibility,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last month when asked to comment about the rugby player’s comments.