The Wallabies lost nine of their 13 tests last year and have fallen to a lowly 6th in the world rankings. They could well deliver Australia’s worst ever World Cup performance later this year. Our Super Rugby teams are so far behind their competitors that a win against a New Zealand side is heralded as a major accomplishment. Attendance, membership and participation figures are all on the way down.
Put quite simply, rugby in Australia is on its knees, and Israel Folau’s latest social media postings very nearly delivered the knockout blow.
When Folau first publicly stated his belief that gays are going to hell in April last year, it plunged rugby into three weeks of chaos. Memberships were cancelled, minor sponsors walked away and major ones threatened to do the same. But Folau was coming off contract and Rugby Australia feared he would walk if they took any real action. Instead he met with RA CEO Raelene Castle and the public was told he had agreed to be more respectful. They signed Folau to a four year $4 million contract in February and hoped he’d behave.
On April 10 Folau posted to Instagram that homosexuals, atheists and adulterers, among others, are going to hell. This time he had proven that not only could he not be trusted by his bosses, he was no longer fit to represent the values of rugby. Rugby prides itself on being a game for everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from, the game they play in heaven will welcome you with open arms. How could Rugby Australia continue to espouse this when their most high profile player tells its supporters that a lot of them are in fact going to hell?
This time Castle and her New South Wales Rugby Union counterpart Andrew Hore showed real leadership. Within 24 hours they publicly stated their intention to terminate his contract. Reportedly, four major Wallabies sponsors threatened to walk, including naming rights sponsor Qantas. This financial blow would’ve crippled the code to the point that it might not have survived.
Young homosexual people in Australia are already six times more likely to consider suicide than their heterosexual peers. For someone with Folau’s profile to tell these vulnerable young people that they are going to hell is deeply dangerous and irresponsible.
Folau has indicated that he may fight to keep his job. RA and the NSWRU must do everything they can to ensure his contract is ripped to shreds.
Australian rugby has to walk away from Folau.
Because there are some things in life, and even in professional sport, that are more important than winning.