Israel Folau's timeline of controversy - his repeated public outbursts
Australia and Wallabies full-back Israel Folau has made anti-gay remarks on social media in September 2017, April 2018 and April 2019
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 11/04/19 5:04pm
As Wallabies and Waratahs full-back Israel Folau's rugby union career teeters on the brink after yet another public homophobic outburst, we look back at the timeline of his controversy.
Raised as a Mormon, Folau converted to the Pentecostal Church in 2011 and has made increasingly outrageous remarks on social media over more recent years...
Back in 2017, the legalisation of gay marriage in Australia was a topic at the very forefront of the country's everyday conversations.
On September 12 2017, the Australian Rugby Union publicly announced support for the 'yes' campaign ahead of the forthcoming Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, joining Cricket Australia, the Football Federation Australia and the NRL in doing so.
Folau responded by tweeting his objection to same-sex marriage a day later on September 13 2017, commenting: "I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. But personally, I will not support gay marriage."
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
Mere hours after Folau's post, Australia teammate David Pocock - who had declared for the four years previous that he would not marry partner Emma until gay marriage was legalised - publicly tweeted a denouncement of homophobia.
While not responding publicly at this stage, Rugby Australia were believed to have spoken to Folau after the board voted to support the 'yes' campaign.
"Nobody is asking you to marry a man. A Yes vote shows respect for others who want the right to have their relationship treated equally," Deputy Lord Major of Sydney Kerryn Phelps commented at the time.
While many at this point questioned the need for Folau to publicly share a view of intolerance, there was also a large group of people who saw his perspective as free speech which should be respected.
Seven months after his gay marriage stance caused consternation, Folau sparked outrage by stating gay people will go to 'hell' - once again, on social media.
On April 4 2017, Folau sent an Instagram message - since deleted - and accompanying graphic out relating to 'God's Plan'. One user responded with the question: 'What was God's plan for gay people?', to which Folau replied: 'HELL...unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.'
The wider response to this comment was far more negative and the back was summoned to meet the head of Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle at a meeting in Sydney.
"Israel's comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby," Ms Castle said in a statement.
"We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby's inclusion policy.
"We understand that Israel's comment has upset a number of people and we will discuss the matter with him as soon as possible."
But despite the furore surrounding the situation, Folau - who at the time was in discussions regarding a new Rugby Australia contract - was not formally disciplined or sanctioned by the organisation.
"We are in a negotiation with Israel to extend [his contract] and we would really like him to stay in rugby, that's hugely important to us, he is a great player, he has delivered some great outcomes for us and has been a really strong role model in the Pacific Islander community and we would like to see he stays in rugby," Castle said.
"I think Israel has acknowledged that maybe he could have put a positive spin on that same message and done it in a more respectful way."
On April 16 2017, Folau wrote a lengthy column on a Player's Voice, titled 'I'm a sinner too', attempting to explain his comments and position - without an apology nor any clear contrition - and offering to walk away from the sport if Rugby Australia felt his position was 'untenable'.
"Israel clearly articulated his religious beliefs and why his faith is important to him, and has provided context behind his social media comment," Castle added.
"In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game. We accept Israel's position.
"Rugby Australia will use this experience as an opportunity to remind all employees of their obligation to use social media in a respectful way."
On April 10 2019, in response to Tasmania's decision to introduce gender-optional birth certificates, Folau tweeted: "The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free."
Two hours later, Folau posted on Instagram a picture reading "hell awaits" for "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators".
He included a lengthy accompanying message, part of which read: "Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him."
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Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________
Kirsty Clarke, director of sport at LGBT charity Stonewall, said: "Folau's comments are just one example of how much work is still left to do to combat discrimination and the use of hateful language against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
"The more players, fans, clubs and organisations that stand up for equality, the sooner we kick discrimination out and make sport everyone's game."
Former British and Irish Lion Gareth Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, took to Twitter to say: "I don't write this with hate or anger after Israel Folau's comments. I write with sympathy. To everyone who reads it, don't be influenced by his words. Be the better person and be YOU. Whoever YOU is..Hell doesn't await YOU. Happiness awaits YOU."
I don’t write this with hate or anger after Israel Folau’s comments.I write with sympathy. To everyone who reads it, don’t be influenced by his words. Be the better person and be YOU. Whoever YOU is..Hell doesn’t await YOU.Happiness awaits YOU.🌈❤️— Gareth Thomas (@gareththomas14) April 10, 2019
Former Wallabies Tim Horan and Stirling Mortlock have both openly questioned Folau's future in the game in the wake of his comments, while Japan captain Michael Leitch recorded an Instagram video calling the comments "wrong on so many levels" and "a stab to the heart".
"The effects these hateful comments will have on LGBT people are enormously harmful," International Gay Rugby, the global organisation for the world's gay and inclusive rugby clubs, said.
"We want all LGBT athletes out there to know that rugby is a sport where you are welcome and respected, a sport of values that doesn't allow for such bigotry or discrimination of any kind."
On Wednesday, Rugby Australia confirmed they were investigating Folau's remarks but had been unable to get in touch with him.
Rugby Australia chief executive Castle and her Waratahs equivalent Andrew Hore said in a joint statement they intended to terminate Folau's contract "in the absence of compelling mitigating factors".
"Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have made repeated attempts to contact Israel both directly and via his representatives since 6.30pm on Wednesday, and at this point he has failed to communicate directly with either organisation," the statement read.
"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. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.
"Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.
"Rugby is a sport that continuously works to unite people. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our game and no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality is acceptable and no language that isolates, divides or insults people based on any of those factors can be tolerated.
"As a code we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.
"In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract."
Just five months out from the next Rugby World Cup in Japan, and two months since Folau signed a lucrative new four-year contract through to 2022, will Rugby Australia truly part ways with one of their most - if not the most - talented players?
The next step is the most important...