Israel Folau's timeline of controversy - his repeated public outbursts
Australia and Wallabies full-back Israel Folau has made anti-LGBT remarks on social media in September 2017, April 2018 and April 2019; Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in May 2019
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 17/05/19 3:19pm
After Wallabies and Waratahs full-back Israel Folau's sacking by Rugby Australia, 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, 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 team-mate David Pocock - who had declared for the four years previous that he would not marry his partner Emma until gay marriage was legalised, in solidarity as an ally - publicly tweeted a denouncement of homophobia.
While not responding publicly at that 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, 2018, Folau sent out an Instagram message - since deleted - and an accompanying graphic 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, 2018, Folau wrote a lengthy column on Australia's PlayersVoice website, 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."
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, 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."
On May 17, 2019, Rugby Australia (RA) held a much-anticipated news conference to confirm the termination of Folau's $4m contract.
RA chief executive Castle announced: "We are here to announce that Wallabies and Waratahs player Israel Folau has today been issued a sanction directing termination of his playing contract for his high-level breach of the professional players' code of conduct.
"We want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game. In rugby, there is not a place for someone that puts their views or position in front of everyone else's.
"That is true of every employee that we have at Rugby Australia, not just the player base, every employee for Rugby Australia, we all need to work together and lived to the values of Rugby Australia."
Folau responded in a statement, revealing: "I am considering my options."
"It has been a privilege and an honour to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love," the statement read.
"I am deeply saddened by today's decision to terminate my employment and I am considering my options.
"As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression. The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God's word. Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country.
"I would like to thank my wife Maria for her love and encouragement to stay true to our beliefs. We have been humbled by the support we have received from family, friends, players, fans and the wider community.
"Thank you also to those who have spoken out in my defence, some of whom do not share my beliefs but have defended my right to express them."