SYDNEY –Key Wallabies sponsor Qantas has praised Rugby Australia for its tough stance on Israel Folau over homophobic comments, while the Waratahs said there was still "a lot of love" for him within the team.
The devoutly Christian player was found guilty of a "high-level" breach of the sport’s code of conduct this week after posting an anti-gay statement on social media.
A three-person tribunal has retired to consider what sanction it merits, with their decision expected next week.
Rugby Australia have made clear it wants to tear up the star fullback’s lucrative four-year contract, but he could be fined or suspended instead.
Qantas, the Wallabies biggest sponsor, is run by openly gay chief executive Alan Joyce, who in his first comments on the row said he was "quite happy" with the governing body’s response.
"We don’t sponsor something to get involved in controversy. That’s not part of the deal," he was quoted as telling the Australian Financial Review Friday.
"We expect our partners to take the appropriate action. It’s their issue, they have to deal with it."
But Joyce also fired a warning shot about any further scandals.
"They have to manage it… and shame on you if it happens a second time," he said, while announcing the airline’s third-quarter results on Thursday.
"That’s the way we approach it in the aviation industry, and we expect these organisations to be the same."
Folau has already been dumped as a brand ambassador by ASICS after posting a banner on Instagram last month that read: "Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you."
The sportswear company, also a Wallabies sponsor, said the partnership had become "untenable".
Folau has so far remained unrepentant, insisting that his beliefs are more important to him than rugby.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported Friday that he been given numerous opportunities before and during the hearing to save his career by guaranteeing not to target the gay community in any further social media posts.
But it said he refused. The offending post remains online and has more than 55,000 likes.
The Waratahs admitted the ongoing sideshow had been a major distraction as they prepare to face the Lions this weekend in Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere competition in which Folau is the record try-scorer.
"It’s been difficult to not let that be a distraction. It’s around us, it’s a high news story," coach Daryl Gibson told reporters in South Africa.
"We’ve tried to keep our boys updated every step of the way with what’s going on with our teammate because there’s still a lot of love and care for Israel within the team – he’s a teammate, we care for him."