Wallabies sponsor dumps Folau as ex-Australia coach slams verdict

Sydney (AFP) –


Sportswear company ASICS dumped Israel Folau as a brand ambassador Wednesday over homophobic comments, as former Wallabies coach Alan Jones slammed those punishing him as "sick".

The devoutly Christian player on Tuesday was found guilty of a "high-level" breach of the sport's code of conduct after posting an anti-gay statement on social media, leaving his career hanging in the balance.

He faces his lucrative four-year Rugby Australia contract being terminated, with the three-person code of conduct panel taking written submissions from his legal team and the governing body before deciding on his punishment.

Rugby Australia moved to sack him after he posted a banner on Instagram last month that read: "Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators -- Hell awaits you." It followed a similar tirade last year.

ASICS, which is also a leading Wallabies sponsor, severed ties with Folau, saying "we believe sport is for everyone and we champion inclusively and diversity".

"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 in a Facebook statement.

"As such, our partnership with Israel has become untenable and he will no longer represent ASICS as a brand ambassador."

Last year ASICS renewed its contract with Rugby Australia for a further six years.

Folau's case has proved complex and divisive, pitting his right to free speech against the offence he has caused others and damage to rugby's reputation.

It has split opinion with several Pacific Island-origin players supporting him, while others, including within the Wallabies camp, have been critical.

- 'Hold your head up' -

Jones, who coached the Wallabies during a golden era in the late 1980s, has been a frequent critic of Rugby Australia and one of the staunchest defenders of Folau's right to free speech.

Now an influential and outspoken radio broadcaster, known for his conservative views, he relayed a message Tuesday he said he received from the player.

"I've just had a note from Israel, he won't mind if I'm sharing it with you because I said to him, 'Hold your head up'," Jones said on his morning programme.

"He said, 'Alan, I'm at peace, mate. My head is held high'."

Jones has previously railed against free speech being "completely corrupted" in Australia and he let rip again Tuesday.

"Nothing wrong with Israel, it's the society and those who prosecute him who are sick," he said.

Jones added that he was "ashamed" of the sport he loves and that "the battle has just begun".

"Israel Folau, with my support and the support of millions of Australians, will take this fight every inch of the way," he said.

"Rugby union preaches diversity -- they really mean uniformity. They preach inclusion but they exclude Israel."

The code of conduct panel could decide to fire Folau, or issue fines or suspensions.

No timescale was given for its decision, with legal experts warning that whatever happens an appeal is likely, potentially followed by a drawn-out court battle.