Australian rugby player Israel Folau faced widespread backlash for posting anti-gay messages on social media.
Rugby Australia, Folau’s team Wallabies main sponsor Qantas Airways, and even New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are among the figures and organisations who strongly condemned Folau’s views on Thursday (April 11).
The rugby star, who is a Christian, posted messages on Instagram and Twitter on Wednesday (April 10) issuing somewhat of a warning to “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” that “hell awaits” unless they “repent.”
The messages, posted on Instagram and Twitter, were posted hours after Tasmania passed sweeping reforms to permit people 16 or older to change their registered gender, removing requirements for transgender people to undergo surgery in order to have their legal gender recognised.
Folau’s posts were ‘liked’ by a number of fellow rugby players, such as fellow Wallabies teammates Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa and All Blacks flanker Vaea Fifita, as The Sydney Morning Herald and Newshub reported.
“To everyone who reads it, don’t be influenced by his words. Be the better person and be YOU. Whoever YOU is… Hell doesn’t await YOU. Happiness awaits YOU.”
— Gareth Thomas
Other rugby players instead participated in the backlash to Folau’s posts.
Retired English rugby player Joe Marler reacted to Folau’s post simply posting on Twitter a picture of two men kissing, captioning the image with a heart. Welsh former rugby player Gareth Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009 and has been a champion of LGBT+ rights, wrote in a tweet: “I don’t write this with hate or anger after Israel Folau’s comments.I write with sympathy. To everyone who reads it, don’t be influenced by his words. Be the better person and be YOU. Whoever YOU is… Hell doesn’t await YOU. Happiness awaits YOU.”
Rugby Australia is now investigating Folau for his “unacceptable” comments, putting the player’s participation in further sporting events up for discussion just months ahead of the Rugby World Cup starting in September.
“The content within the post is unacceptable. It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the Rugby community,” read a Rugby Australia statement, quoted in the BBC. “The Rugby Australia integrity unit has been engaged on the matter tonight.”
Qantas praised Rugby Australia’s reaction in its own statement. “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support,” the statement, quoted in The Guardian, read. “We are pleased to see Rugby Australia’s condemnation of the comments and will await the outcome of their review.”
Kiwi Prime Minister Ardern was also asked to comment on Folau, who is married to New Zealand netball player Maria Folau. “Obviously on a personal I clearly don’t agree with what he said. I am very mindful of the fact that for many, he is a role model. He is a person in a position of influence and I think with that comes responsibility,” she said on Thursday, quoted in Newshub.
Israel Folau has a history of making anti-LGBT comments
Folau stood by his stance despite opposition, insisting that it did not mean he was discriminatory. He wrote on Twitter: “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions.”
However, just months later in April 2018, he prompted outrage by saying gay people were going to hell “unless they repent of their sins.” His latest anti-LGBT+ posts were posted exactly a year since meeting with Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and NSW Rugby counterpart Andrew Hore to discuss his social media use.
“We’d really like him to stay in rugby – that’s hugely important to us, he’s a great player,” Castle said at the time, quoted in ESPN.