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Folau rejects settlement offer over 'anti-gay' posts: report

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Sydney (AFP)

Israel Folau rejected a lucrative settlement to end his contract row with Rugby Australia over homophobic comments, a report said Sunday as his high-stakes code of conduct hearing entered a second day.

The devoutly religious fullback instead opted to fight a decision by the governing body to terminate his multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal after he posted on social media that "hell awaits" gay people, following a similar tirade last year.

Sydney's Sunday Telegraph said an Aus$1 million (US$700,000) offer was made to him last week in a bid to avoid the tribunal, which experts have warned could lead to appeals and potentially a long and costly court battle.

The offer equated to just one year of his four-year contract.

Folau, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, and Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle all gave "oral evidence" to the hearing on Saturday, which has spilled into Sunday with a final outcome not expected until later in the week.

No further witnesses will be called, according to the governing body.

The three-member panel, chaired by employment law expert John West, will decide what punishment, if any, is appropriate -- ranging from a fine to a suspension, or the sack.

Folau was expected to argue that Rugby Australia did not include a social media clause in the four-year contract he signed in February and his posts were merely quoting the Bible.

The governing body would reportedly counter that even if there was no clause, he seriously breached its broader code of conduct and its inclusion policy.

Plenty is at stake -- Folau faces an end to his glittering playing career while it could leave Rugby Australia with a major financial headache if forced to pay out his Aus$4 million contract.

Last month it reported a profit of Aus$5.2 million in 2018 after axing Super Rugby side Western Force.

But it also warned of a loss in 2019, a scenario that often plays out in a World Cup year when there are fewer home Tests.

The Telegraph put the shortfall from hosting just three Tests at Aus$8 million, and if a Folau payout is added, it would leave Rugby Australia in a precarious position.

The controversy has overshadowed Australia's World Cup preparations, with Cheika vowing not to pick Folau again after his "disrespectful" comments.

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

Players with Polynesian heritage make up a large chunk of those involved in rugby in Australia.

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