Monday 16 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Rugby must take stand and ban unrepentant Vunipola from final'


"Vunipola is an influencer. His words will be heeded and acted upon for such is the nature of the world we live in." Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Billy Vunipola is a homophobe. Vunipola is one of the best rugby players in the world. He is an England international who is key to his adopted country's World Cup hopes. Vunipola was awarded man of the match when his club Saracens defeated Munster in Coventry on Saturday in the semi- final of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Israel Folau, the Australian full-back, tweeted that "hell awaits" for "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators."

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Vunipola backed Folau and refused to retract. So it was then that two of the best rugby players in the world agree with the burning of gay people in hell because they are gay. Yes burning, because that's what happens in hell.

Some of you who will say Vunipola is entitled to freedom of speech. More will profoundly disagree with the homophobic comments but maintain this is the man's religion and we are entitled to worship the God of our choice

There are religions whose followers kill non-believers. Religion must not be used a blanket defence.

Vunipola is a public figure who may not support the punishment of gay people in this life but has no problem with punishment in the hereafter.

Vunipola is an influencer. His words will be heeded and acted upon for such is the nature of the world we live in. The cult of celebrity attracts the support of those who are extreme. One slur borrows another.

Nigel Owens is a gay rugby referee. Most would agree he too is world-class at what he does. His comments received massive support from rugby people.

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Here's what Nigel Owens said: "Just judge a person on the decent person that they are. There are some things in life that you can choose - your sexuality is not one of them.

"I don't agree with the (Vunipola) opinion. Although everyone has the right to have his view, you then have to understand the consequences when you express the view that can be very, very hurtful to a lot of people.

"When people do cross that line of what is acceptable and what is not - particularly within the position of influence - then you have to take responsibility, I believe, for your actions."

Australia manager Michael Cheika fired Folau and rightly so, but Mark McCall, the Saracens coach, picked Vunipola to play against Munster. BT Sport awarded the man of the match award to Vunipola. They said "he had a hard week."

I'll tell you who had a hard week. It was the gay kids who are playing the game of rugby and will, according to Vunipola, burn in hell. And remember Nigel Owens tried to take his own life when he was a young man because of the shame he then felt.

Billy had more support from the fezzed Saracens fans who marched behind a band just in front of the entrance to the stand. They were late and missed the team bus. The turn-out wasn't much more than the numbers of mourners walking behind the hearse carrying a reasonably popular man to an Irish country graveyard. They mixed freely with Munster. Songs were sung, drinks were drank and fun was had on a lovely sunny day.

Billy Vunipola snuck in to the Ricoh Arena, head down, through the human tunnel of hundreds of Munster fans. There was no fencing and scarcely any security. I thought I might have heard a few boos, but it was no more than the lowing of a stray sheep on a lonesome mountain.

There was a huge Saracens cheer though when Billy Vunipola's name was called out just before kick-off.

The cheer angered me and the Munster fans I spoke to felt the same. I felt so sorry for any gay person in the stadium or watching on TV.


The total number of Saracens fans who were present was probably in the region of about 3,000. Not all cheered Vunipola.

The attendance was over 16,000 so I would say to the gay rugby community, the vast majority of us rugby supporters love you, and respect you for who you are. You are one of us and we are one of you.

To the kids, I would say, play on and enjoy the game. You will face bigotry, hate and ignorance wherever you go in life but you have nothing ever to be ashamed of. Wear the gay jersey and wear it with pride.

I'm pretty sure most of the Saracens supporters are not homophobic but their cheering of a homophobe was at best naïve and at worst an endorsement of Vunipola's beliefs.

This misguided cheers of the Saracens fans incensed a section of the Munster supporters on the far side from our position in the press box. Vunipola was booed. He stared into the crowd and a few boos turned to hundreds. Normally I would not condone booing but Munster are an inclusive club. No man or woman is left behind. Munster were expressing their support for our gay brothers and sisters.

Vunipola taunted the Munster fans after the game. There was no humility or sportsmanship here and a foolish person wearing a Munster jersey ran on to the pitch. This was no physical attack on the giant Vunipola. The incursion was a one-man invasion from a force of about 10,000 fans. The incursion must be condemned.

I wonder how Vunipola would feel if a fellow player said a person of colour would burn in hell because his skin was not white. The targeting of coloured players is bigotry of the worst kind and sport is fighting it every step of the way. Homophobia is attack against the LGBT community, yet Vunipola was allowed to play against Munster on Easter Saturday.

Vunipola was warned by Saracens as to his future conduct. But after the game Vunipola said of Saracens: "Behind closed doors I was shown a lot of love."

Vunipola has had talks with the English RFU. England will not win the World Cup if he is fired. Vunipola has since declared: "I believe in what I believe in. There was no intention to hurt anyone."

Well Billy, flames do tend to hurt people. And kids do look up to big name players. You have hurt so many people.

Rugby must take a stand. Billy Vunipola must be banned from playing in next month's Heineken Champions Cup Final.

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