Video of weeping Folau emerges as conduct trial looms

Sydney (AFP) –


Footage of a tearful Israel Folau telling church-goers he won't compromise his faith emerged Friday, ahead of a hearing to decide if the Wallabies star's homophobic outbursts will end his international career.

Rugby Australia (RA) wants to sack the devoutly Christian fullback over a social media post last month that said "hell awaits" gay people, which followed a similar online tirade last year.

A code of conduct hearing into the matter will begin in Sydney on Saturday to determine if RA can tear up Folau's multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract.

With Folau's future in the balance, Australia media on Friday published footage of the player giving a sermon at his local church on Easter Sunday in which he references his challenges.

"In your workplace, if they tell you something that will compromise your faith, this a test in which you're going to be challenged," he says in the video.

"The question is, what are you going to do?"

Calling himself "a soldier of Christ", Folau breaks down in tears after quoting the scripture verse: "For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"

"This life that we live is really hard," the 30-year-old says, struggling to regain his composure as a church-goer hands him a tissue.

It was unclear how the mobile phone footage came to be released ahead of the hearing.

- 'Uphold our values' -

RA said the conduct hearing could extend into Sunday as both sides present their case to a three-person panel, but a final decision is not expected this weekend.

Folau is set to argue he is exercising his right to freedom of religion, while RA will counter that in doing so he cannot vilify minority groups such as gays, which damages rugby's reputation.

RA is also likely to cite Folau's repeated breaches of its social media policy, arguing he broke a commitment to avoid anti-gay online evangelicism following last year's controversy.

Whatever the panel decides, appeals are likely in a case that experts say could set a precedent for how much control sporting bodies have over athletes' public pronouncements.

The controversy has overshadowed Australia's World Cup preparations, with coach Michael Cheika vowing not to select Folau over his "disrespectful" comments.

Others in the Wallabies camp have also criticised Folau but some, particularly from Pacific Islands backgrounds, have reportedly been angered because they feel their religion is under attack.

Centre Samu Kerevi faced online criticism after posting a Christian message over Easter, with prop Taniela Tupou rushing to his defence.

"Might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs," he said in a Facebook post that has since been deleted.

The Australian newspaper reported RA chief executive Raelene Castle wrote to players last month telling them that the organisation respected their religious beliefs.

"I want to reassure that we support the right of all players to hold personal beliefs," the letter cited by the newspaper said.

"But we must uphold our values that are core to our game and to the Wallabies, including respect and team-work."