Qantas has expressed its disappointment to Rugby Australia after the star player Israel Folau made homophobic comments on his personal Instagram account saying gay people were destined for “hell”.
The 29-year-old fullback, who plays for the Australian Wallabies and the New South Wales Waratahs, is a devout Christian and posted a cartoon depicting “God’s plan” on his Instagram on Monday.
When a follower asked what the plan was for gay people, Folau responded: “HELL – unless they repent their sins and turn to God.”
On Friday Qantas, which is the major sponsor of the national side, said it had made it clear to Rugby Australia that it found the comments “very disappointing”.
“As a sponsor of Rugby Australia, we’re supportive of their approach towards tolerance and inclusion, which aligns with our own,” the airline said.
Australian rugby quickly distanced itself from Folau’s comments.
The chief executives of Rugby NSW and Rugby Australia said on Thursday they would meet with Folau to discuss his comments.
“Israel’s comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby,” they said. “We are aligned in our view that Rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in Rugby’s inclusion policy.
“We understand that Israel’s comment has upset a number of people and we will discuss the matter with him as soon as possible.”
His teammate Nick Phipps told Fox Sports the squad was a “diverse” group.
“[Folau’s view] is certainly not something that, as a club or as the rest of the squad, we share, but for him that’s just his beliefs at the moment and we’ve got to support that and it’s not a big deal for the squad moving forward.”
The former Wallabies player Drew Mitchell defended Folau’s right to free speech, and said the most important shared belief in a team was that they could “go on and win the title”.
Folau removed the offending comments but not the Instagram post. On Friday there were a number of comments from followers expressing their disappointment in the player, and some supporting him.
He has previously spoken about his Christian beliefs and expressed anti-gay sentiments. Last year he said he would vote against marriage equality in the postal plebiscite, in opposition to the official position taken by the Wallabies and Rugby Australia.
The Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, was one of the most prominent advocates in the yes campaign during last year’s same-sex marriage postal vote. He was also its single largest donor, contributing $1m to the cause.
Joyce has faced criticism for using Qantas to promote same-sex marriage – as well as Indigenous reconciliation and other causes – but he has defended the right of business to speak up on social issues.
“We are vocal on gender-equality issues, Indigenous issues and on LGBTI issues,” he told the AFR. “That’s what good businesses do. They’re part of society. They help promote societal changes. They help promote what’s good for our people.”