Saturday 21 September 2019

Comment: Israel Folau’s sick vilification of homosexuals is archaic, unwanted and unwelcome in such a progressive sport

Israel Folau (Getty)
Israel Folau (Getty)

Sam Peters

Israel Folau really needs to be quiet.

Freedom of speech is all well and good but when it is used to persistently, inexcusably and divisively force prehistoric views upon an audience which has long since moved with the times, even the greatest sports stars need to be told to shut up.

A month after he first spewed forth his own bizarre take on the Bible, telling the world that gay people are destined for hell unless they repent for their “sins”, rugby’s poster boy for homophobia was at it again on Thursday, shrugging his shoulders at the upset he’s caused and sticking two fingers up to the sport’s growing gay community.

Despite a furious backlash from fans, fellow players and any right-minded person unfortunate to have consumed his bilious comments, 29-year-old Folau continues on his one-man crusade to impersonate Jim Davidson.

Folau posted this on his Instagram page (Instagram (@izzyfolau))

“I stand firm in what I believe in and that’s something personal with who I am,” the devout Christian said. “That’s something that comes truly from the bottom of my heart.”

Really Israel? The heart of your bottom more like.

Why on earth does Folau care what another human being gets up to in the privacy of their own bedroom? Why isn’t he using his privileged position as a professional sportsman, and the massive media profile that goes with it, to campaign for the really pressing issues facing rugby today like player burnout, concussion or doping?

Folau could literally be saving lives but instead he chooses to patronise, vilify and divide with his archaic and unwanted views. Folau insisted this week that the backlash against his comments – described as “disgusting” by Chiefs half back Brad Weber – had not bothered him in the slightest.

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“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if the criticism had hurt. “I don’t take anything personally. I understand everyone is entitled to their opinions and I’ve said what I’ve said in recent weeks. I leave it there.”

Really Israel? Then why have you set about systematically blocking anyone on social media who has sort to challenge your warped world view?

I do not for one second buy into the notion that rugby floats on a higher moral plain to other sports – most notably football – but on the issue of sexual orientation and inclusivity it has taken huge strides in recent years. It is frankly infuriating as a rugby lover to hear Folau drag us back into the dark ages.

What right does he have to throw his weight around in this way? And frankly, who cares?

Whereas footballers have been fearful of “coming out” over the years, rugby has embraced high-profile homosexual players, officials and members of the media.

Former Wales and British Lions captain Gareth Thomas, world-class referee Nigel Owens and respected pundit Nick Heath are just a handful of high-profile gay figures who would argue the sport has been overwhelmingly welcoming towards them. Their right to be respected far outweighs Folau’s right to spread hatred based on his own-warped belief system which preys upon those with a narrow world view and lack of education.

The rugby community needs to take a stand. When Owens was on the receiving end of homophobic abuse from a fan at Twickenham Stadium in 2014 it was a fellow fan who blew the whistle when they wrote a scathing letter to The Guardian complaining about the behaviour.

Rochelle Clark, England women’s most capped player of all time, recently married her former team-mate Kat Merchant in a civil ceremony attended by several current and former players. It didn’t make many headlines because, frankly, it is not exactly breaking news that two female rugby players are gay. Thankfully, most of us have moved on.

Folau, it appears, has not and his dull-headed comments just take us back in time.

As rugby looks to grow its audience and embrace new participants, especially in the women’s game, there needs to be a unified response to remind Folau his views are unwelcome, cruel and poisonous.

More’s the pity, Australian Rugby’s feeble response to Folau’s hate-filled homophobia has amounted to little more than a slap on the wrists. Time will tell if sponsors such as Qantas and Asics wish to continue to be associated with such poisonous nonsense.

The RFU’s chief executive Stephen Brown, when asked if rugby players should leave homophobic attitudes at home by Heath in an interview for rugbyPass recently, gave a stronger response.

“I’d like to hope they didn’t believe it at home either,” Brown said. “The most important thing is that we have people with the right moral values and approach the spirit and inclusivity of our game, which is kind of what it’s all about anyway, with the right mindset. So there literally is no place for that kind of attitude.”

Amen to that!

It has always been said rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes but it also a game for all creeds, races and sexual orientation.

Folau’s views don’t represent mine or the vast majority of the rugby community who have far greater things to worry about that a fellow human’s sexuality.

He may be a great rugby player but Folau has shown himself to be a bloody awful human being. All gay people are going to hell? Oh please just shut up, Israel.

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