Friday 20 September 2019

David Kelly: 'Axing Folau a crucial step on road to full inclusion'

Australia's Israel Folau. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Australia's Israel Folau. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
David Kelly

David Kelly

This time there will be no second chance for Israel Folau. Not everyone can turn the other cheek.

It is a year since he offered his resignation to Rugby Australia (RA) on the last occasion he publicised his personal beliefs - chiefly that unrepentant homosexuals are destined to go to hell - which were deemed contrary to his position as a paid professional employee.

His beliefs weren't the core issue, then, as now, rather the breaching of protocol by their broadcast. And so Folau was handed a new professional contract, even if rather less financially rewarding. After all, the sport in Australia needed Folau as much as he needed it. A rugby union - but an uncomfortable one. As it now proves.

Which is why, unless there are "mitigating factors" - whatever that may mean - when Folau let loose his controversial extremist Christian views on social media again this week, tossing in a vast constituency including adulterers, drunks, fornicators for good measure, his bosses had no option but to cut him loose.

Folau also railed against liars; quite the irony considering he had broken his own vow of truth when he signed on the dotted line.

The dismantling of this trust, and the public reiteration of views that are repugnant to a considerable section of society - we must concede that there is another who agree with them - left RA with no option in discharging their responsibilities to the sport by discharging him from it.

"Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport," they said. "We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts."

Folau's comments cross international boundaries. David Keane of the IRFU, speaking this week at the launch of the Union Cup, Europe's largest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament, to be held in Dublin this June, expanded on the theme.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

"We want everyone to be who they want to be. They are our rugby values."

Folau, clearly, does not believe that everyone can be who they want to be. Those that argue free speech deny others the right to personal freedom.

Status

Also at the Union Cup launch, Lindsay Peat, the multi-talented sports star, who only came out as gay eight years ago, wondered by the time her three-year-old son went to school would society accept him and his same-sex parents as who they want to be.

"I won't lie, it is a lot of pressure," she says of the role model status assumed of her, rather than by her. "Because of what I went through, all the demons you are faced with, it brings you back to that vulnerable place.

"So it is hard for even me to put myself on that pedestal, you're out there as a target for people's opinions. But I have to remind myself how happy and content I am. I just want to be me for me. But, 100pc, not everybody can do it."

It is this silent majority who are at risk, whether from a disproportionate interest in engaging with sport to the more extreme risks of suicide and mental health disintegration, and who suffer as a result of Folau broadcasting extremist views.

Silencing him, of course, will not necessarily result in any accelerated change, It is merely one step, if a significant one. He is not alone; fellow professionals, from his own club, not to mention a current All Black, "liked" his Instagram post.

RA deserves praise for its stance and one can only hope it is as deeply-held as those that they object to in Folau's postings. After all, Folau is not just a Wallaby but a Qantas Wallaby. Bad for business now; not so much a year ago.

The airline, headed by a gay Irishman, Alan Joyce, is the chief backer of Australian rugby, arguably keeping the listing show on the road.

Qantas also partner with Emirates, owned by a country that jails people for the "crime" of being gay.

Also this week, Brunei adopted sharia law, including the death penalty for gay sex. Qantas, for now, has been unmoved about links with the country's airline. One hopes their indecision, in the light of their swift excision of Folau's contract, will not leave them open to a charge of hypocrisy. Will their rugby values trump commercial considerations? Consistency would seem to demand that they must.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport