Israel Folau is the fullback for a very disappointing Waratahs team, as well as a very disappointing Wallabies team. So at least it was keeping in character that he made a very disappointing tweet last night regarding marriage equality in Australia.
I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage.???
— Israel Folau (@IzzyFolau) September 13, 2017
In a week where the Australian Rugby Union would’ve just been looking forward to a rare occasion when the Wallabies would go into a game as favourites, Folau’s paradoxical show/lack of support for gay people is a sideshow they really didn’t need. Especially considering they had to spend their last match in Perth listening to the crowd chanting the name of the Western Force, who the ARU have cut from Super Rugby.
For the record, Israel Folau is fully entitled to have an opinion on this issue – no matter how backward it is. Unfortunately for him, and the teams he’s associated with, taking up that entitlement publically brings with it the predictable backlash that he should’ve known was going to come within seconds of hitting the ‘tweet’ button. And boy, it came.
Sad to hear you state this mate. Human rights aren't an opinion.
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottliebFOX) September 13, 2017
Then you DON'T respect all people. You think some people are beneath having rights that you personally enjoy. That's not love.
— Van Badham ??? (@vanbadham) September 13, 2017
It's my opinion that this tweet is worse than your AFL career
— Josh Button (@PiesJosh) September 13, 2017
So what did he think this going to achieve?
It’s now the main talking point in a public relations battle the Australian rugby is currently losing handsomely, given their mishandling of the Super Rugby cull and horrible on-field form. They gained a brief respite last week by drawing with a strong Springbok team and are now due to play a weak Pumas side – a perfect chance to get some form back. Instead they’ll now have to deal with this distraction.
The most annoying part of all this is that the Wallabies did actually have the one guy in world rugby who has been incredibly vocal on this issue, however in a far more politically correct way. Flanker David Pocock, currently taking a year off, publically stated that he wouldn’t marry until marriage equality had been made legal in Australia.
He even demonstrated his beliefs on the field too, calling out Jacques Potgieiter for a homophobic slur during a match between the Brumbies and Waratahs – which was backed up by the skippers of both sides and SANZAAR, who handed Potgieter a fine.
In Folau’s old code, the NRL have moved swiftly to back the marriage equality issue. CEO Todd Greenberg has publically supported the ‘yes’ vote, on the behest of the code’s first openly gay player. Former Manly, NSW and Kangaroo forward Ian Roberts had asked him to endorse it – however considering Roberts is capable of stuff like this, it’s unlikely anyone would want to disagree with him.
Even over here in NZ, where the All Blacks have carved out a reputation as impregnable and monolithic when it comes to opinions, at least one has made his feelings known on the matter.
The big difference here being that while some people will disagree with TJ Perenara, it’s not an opinion the All Blacks will have to disassociate themselves with. Spare a thought for the ARU PR department, who have now had their hand forced into clarifying their stance on an issue that Pocock was quite happily taking on their behalf.
If there’s a lesson to be learned in this for Folau, it’s those shows of support and what they mean to the teams and codes associated with them. No one would’ve not watched rugby if he’d kept his opposition to marriage equality to himself. Plenty of folks probably won’t now because he did.
The big talking point about rugby in Australia is how it has to compete with the NRL, AFL and A-League for attention. If Israel Folau still wants a job, he simply can’t afford to turn any potential fans away – whether they’re gay or not.