Today, Israel Folau's views on the LGBTI community are shockingly clear — according to the controversial rugby star, "hell awaits" them and other "sinners".

But just a few short years ago, he was singing a very different tune.

In August 2014, the Evangelical Christian and former Mormon was a poster boy for the Bingham Cup, an event known as "the gay rugby World Cup" that was held in Sydney that year.

As part of his apparent support for the inclusive event, he graced the cover of the Star Observer — Australia's longest-running publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities — alongside fellow rugby star Adam Ashley-Cooper.

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But after he made his now-infamous Instagram post a week ago, calling on "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" to "repent" or risk eternity in hell, social media users have started to question what prompted the 30-year-old's stunning turnaround.

According to former Star Observer editor Elias Jahshan, while Folau wasn't available for interview at the time, instead providing comment via a Bingham Cup spokesperson, there was little to suggest he held such abhorrent opinions.

In fact, that spokesperson told staff Folau was against all forms of discrimination — but Mr Jahshan said that claim was now meaningless.

"It's absolutely selfish of someone to use a platform or publicly show support for the LGBTI community to further their own career ambitions — or their ego — when they don't actually do anything tangible to support us like a proper ally would," he told news.com.au.

"It's worse when, like Israel Folau, they seem to do a complete 180 and turn against us after standing with us."

Mr Jahshan said the 2014 cover — which has reappeared on social media since the scandal broke — made Folau look "hypocritical" and "opportunistic", and his views were "toxic masculinity at its worst".

Folau was a poster boy for
Folau was a poster boy for "the gay rugby World Cup" in 2014. So what happened since then?

"Being divisive and inciting homophobia sets a really bad example. I'm not saying he should be censored — I don't believe in censorship — but I do believe he must be held accountable," he said.

"Let's also make one thing clear — this is not an attack on freedom of religion. Folau is free to believe whatever he wants. But freedom of religion and speech does not equate to being immune to criticism or accountability.

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"A person who can't take full responsibility for the [way] they feel towards a particular group of people — and hides behind religion to justify it — is not someone you can trust at all. Especially if they're high-profile figures like Folau."

According to Aussie public relations expert Nicole Reaney, the damage Folau's post has inflicted on his own career, as well as on Rugby Australia, has been immense.

She said the situation had snowballed as this was not Folau's first offensive post — in 2017, he voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage after the Wallabies supported the Yes campaign, and last year he published a similar Instagram post claiming God's plan for gay people was "HELL".

Israel Folau of the Waratahs looks on during the round 8 Super Rugby match between the Blues and Waratahs at Eden Park on April 06, 2019. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Israel Folau of the Waratahs looks on during the round 8 Super Rugby match between the Blues and Waratahs at Eden Park on April 06, 2019. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

"It's very serious — as a nation we have evolved, and now we educate our children, our society and our workplaces to be more inclusive, and that's a view shared by the majority of the public," Ms Reaney said.

"Folau's statement has been detrimental to his public image, and it is hurtful, offensive and misaligned to the values of the majority of his teammates, Rugby Australia and affiliated sponsors as well as fans and the general public.

"His latest attempt to voice his views knowing they are at odds with Rugby Australia has damaged his personal brand, and now he presents as a risk to the organisation."

Ms Reaney said Rugby Australia would be feeling the pressure from sponsors and fans to take appropriate action against him and said his relationship with his teammates was on "tenterhooks".

"The only way he could recover would be if he acknowledges his comments have been hurtful and misaligned with the organisation he is contracted to," she said.

"He's entitled to his own beliefs, but as a public figure his words and actions are projected onto the world stage, so there's no way he could continue to belong to a brand if there is a conflict."

She said Folau's appearance on the Star Observer cover might damage his reputation further.

"Being on that cover demonstrates he was either not being authentic about his views at the time, or that his faith has shifted, but regardless, it shows that he is a risky investment in the minds of future sponsors or employers," she said.

She said the case was unique as most public scandals resulted in an apology, while Folau remained unrepentant.

"Normally, when we see a scandal involving someone in the public eye they take a step back, apologise or make some sort of attempt to repair the damage that's been caused, but the fact he's fighting (the breach notice Rugby Australia issued him with) shows he has not recognised any fallout or the impact he has had," she said.