SYDNEY: International rugby league’s governing body on Tuesday rejected sacked Wallaby Israel Folau’s claim he had been cleared to make a shock return to the sport representing Tonga.
Folau, fired by Rugby Australia over social media posts warning “hell awaits” gays and other sinners, said in a statement released Monday night that he had received a green light to rejoin the 13-man code he left in 2010.
But the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) issued a terse rebuff, saying: “That statement is incorrect, the RLIF has not been formally asked to consider this matter.”
The RLIF’s stance means Folau’s plan to revive his sporting fortunes playing rugby league for Tonga in upcoming Tests against Australia and Britain is uncertain.
The devout Christian, a try-scoring sensation at fullback in rugby union, was set to light up the current Rugby World Cup in Japan before homophobic posts derailed his career.
Instead, Rugby Australia tore up the 30-year-old’s multi-million dollar contract and dumped him, prompting Folau to launch legal action seeking compensation.
Both the Tonga National Rugby League and RLIF declined to comment on when Folau’s status would be settled.
However, Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) reported that RLIF directors were set to hold a telephone hook-up to discuss vetoing Folau’s Tonga bid.
The RLIF’s deputy director, Australia’s Peter Beattie, has previously said that Folau “fails the NRL’s inclusiveness culture” and would not be welcome in the sport.
The Australian newspaper reported that Tongan officials and Folau both had legal advice that the Pacific nation was free to select the player.
Splinter in team
Folau’s plan has proved typically divisive among fans and pundits.
Former Wallabies coach turned conservative shock jock Alan Jones said Folau should be free to play, arguing his anti-gay posts were an expression of religious freedom.
“He must be some kind of criminal, is he? What has Israel done except profess his Christian faith?” Jones said on his Sydney talkback radio programme.
The Daily Telegraph’s David Riccio pointed out there were already divisions between Tonga’s players and their board, meaning Folau would be walking out of one controversy and into another.
He questioned whether the players who had turned Tonga into a genuine rugby league force in recent years would welcome his last-minute inclusion.
“If he does return to league, Folau’s presence would undeniably splinter a proud nation that has emerged as one of sport’s great success stories in recent years,” he wrote.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Georgina Robinson said the latest instalment in the Folau saga could also prove an unwelcome distraction to his former Wallabies’ teammates in Japan.
“He has a way of inviting himself to a party that very few people want him at,” she said.