Sunday 26 May 2019

Billy Vunipola condemned by RFU and Saracens after support for Israel Folau's anti-gay Instagram post

Billy Vunipola. Photo: ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Billy Vunipola. Photo: ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Jack de Menezes

England and Saracens player Billy Vunipola has defended shamed Australian rugby international Israel Folau in a lengthy Instagram post in which he claims “man was made for woman to procreate”.

The 26-year-old will face a meeting with the Rugby Football Union over his support for Folau, who claimed on Wednesday that “Hell awaits” for ““Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, and Atheists” in a religious-based tirade.

The incident is the second time that Folau has posted anti-gay comments on social media in the space of a year, and has resulted in Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union issuing their intention to terminate his contract.

Folau finally met with RA officials on Friday but the governing body issued a new statement to insist that their “joint position remains unchanged”, leaving Folau facing a deeply uncertain future.

But after liking Folau’s Instagram post, England regular Vunipola issued a lengthy comment of his own to defend his own actions in doing so, and also Folau for expressing his religious beliefs.

View this post on Instagram

So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

A post shared by Billy Vunipola (@vunipola_billy) on

“So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post,” said Vunipola, who like Folau is of Christian faith. “This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be.

“Man was made for woman to procreate, that was the goal no? I’m not perfect, I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that.

“But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The RFU issued a statement to stress that they did not share these views and they they will meet with the England No 8 as a result.

An RFU spokeswoman said: “Rugby is an inclusive sport, and we do not support these views. We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts.”

His club Saracens also plan to take action against Vunipola after stressing it does not meet their stance against discrimination, and added that the matter will be handled internally.

A Saracens statement read: “Saracens proudly embraces diversity and warmly welcomes everyone to the club regardless of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

“Our sport is open to all and we strive for it to be free from all forms of discrimination. We recognise that people have different belief systems and we expect everyone to be treated equally with respect and humility.

“As representatives and role models Saracens players have a responsibility not only to themselves but to the club and wider society. Billy Vunipola’s recent social media posts are inconsistent with this and we take this matter very seriously. It will be handled internally.”

In an interview earlier this year with The Independent, Vunipola revealed that his faith is his No 1 priority in life ahead of his family and rugby, and has helped him through the dark times he experienced when he suffered three separate broken arms in the space of eight months. On top of that, Vunipola's mother is Reverend Iesinga Vunipola, a Methodist Minister.

But his comments are likely to draw criticism given the severe backlash against Folau, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his New Zealand equivalent Jacinda Ardern condemning the Wallaby international’s outburst.

Both James Haskell and Joe Marler, two of Vunipola’s former England teammates, also criticised the Australian, with Haskell claiming: “This is the biggest load of s*** I have ever read,” Haskell said on Twitter. “Sport has no place for this crap. Keep it to hate groups @IzzyFolau , you aren’t spreading the lords word. You are spreading hate. You are an unreal player, but a f****** misinformed bigot.

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