efe-epaSydney, Australia

A panel on Friday ordered Rugby Australia – the entity that controls the country's national rugby union team – to terminate the contract of one of its players for violating its code of conduct by expressing homophobic comments on social media.

The decision was taken after Israel Folau, 30, challenged his sacking, which was announced last month by Rugby Australia when the player refused to apologize for a controversial Instagram post in which he lambasted several groups from his point of view as a conservative Christian.

In the post, Folau had lashed against "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters," demanding they repent for their sins or else go to hell.

"Rugby Australia did not choose to be in this situation, but Rugby Australia's position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue the course of action resulting in today's outcome," said Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, according to the Australian national broadcaster ABC.

"People need to feel safe and welcomed in the game, regardless of their race, background or sexuality," said Castle, adding that Folau had 72 hours to appeal the decision.

The announcement of Folau's termination of contract comes on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

The player, who had in the past expressed his opposition to same-sex marriages, had been reprimanded by the federation for similar comments.

Folau made his international debut for the Australia squad in 2013, going on to become one of the mainstays of the national team. He has played 73 matches wearing the national colors.

In February, he had signed a new contract for four years and AU$4 million ($2.7 million) with Rugby Australia and was expected to be one of Australia's top players at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan in September.

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