Australian rugby star Israel Folau has responded to backlash over homophobic remarks by tweeting a Bible verse about ‘persecuted’ Christians.
Folau, the former captain of Australia’s national rugby union squad the Wallabies, came under fire last week after saying that gay people are destined for hell on his personal Instagram account.
When an Instagram user asked what God’s plan was for gay people, the fullback responded: “HELL – unless they repent their sins and turn to God.”
The comments led to criticism from a number of other rugby players – but Folau appeared defiant on Twitter last night.
He tweeted a Bible verse which states: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
The player has been condemned by two of rugby’s few openly gay names – former Wales player Gareth Thomas and referee Nigel Owens.
Owens accused Folau of stoking the homophobia that has left many gay players in the sport afraid to come out.
Writing for Wales Online, he said: “Comments like Israel Folau’s about gay people, and all other types of bullying by all kinds of people, [is] enough to tip them over the edge, because there is a minority who give the impression you cannot be who you truly are.
“Yes, you are entitled to your opinion but one should understand what that opinion can do to young and vulnerable people’s lives in particular ones in a bad place dealing with their sexuality.
“When you say first of all that you respect everybody and their different views and opinions, then you can’t mean that if you are saying gay people should go to hell because of who they are.
“All that should matter is that if you are a decent human being then you should be respected and treated the same as everybody else and you should treat and respect everybody else the same as well too.”
Thomas, meanwhile, shared a story about Folau’s ‘God’s plan’ comments, adding: “What’s his plan for you then [Izzy Folau]?”
The player is unlikely to face sanction from the sport’s governing body for his remarks.
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Rugby Australia said in a statement: “Folau’s personal beliefs do not reflect the views of Rugby Australia.
“Rugby supports all forms of inclusion, whether its sexuality, race, or gender, which is set out in our 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.”
Folau previously spoke out strongly against same-sex marriage.
After being challenged last year, he said: “I’m going to stand firm on what I’ve said, that’s what I believe in.
“I guess it doesn’t change anything for me and my mindset is still first hand with what’s going on here with the Wallabies.
“It hasn’t really had an effect on me at all, so I stand firm on what I believe in and what I said.”
He later added: “I stand alongside what I said on that time and I’ve left it there. I stay true to myself and what I believe in.
“I thought about all the things that could happen afterwards, and that’s fine for me, I respect everyone and everyone’s opinions which is all good.”