'That was a resignation letter': PM, former Wallaby wade in on Folau debate

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 11 April 2019, 5:38p.m.
Israel Folau has once again caused controversy with social media posts. (Photo / Getty)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has waded in on the debate around Israel Folau, saying she "totally disagrees" with him and how he's using social media.

The Wallabies star faces possible sanction from Rugby Australia after he took to Twitter to tell people to "turn away" from their evil ways after Tasmania became the first Australian jurisdiction to make gender an option on birth certificates.

"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," Folau posted.

The Waratahs Super Rugby star then went on Instagram and warned sinners would be going to hell unless they repented.

Asked if his comments should be regarded as hate speech, Ardern told reporters that even if they didn't fit a legal definition they nonetheless could be very damaging.

"Obviously at a personal level I clearly don't agree with what he said and very mindful of the fact he is for many a role model, he's a person in a position of influence and with that comes responsibility.

"I'm particularly mindful that young people are members of our rainbow community [and] there's a lot of vulnerability there," Ardern told reporters.

"I totally disagree agree with what he says and how he's using his platform," she said.

She joins a wide range of voices criticising the rugby start, including Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons wrote that Folau's latest post should see Rugby Australia cut their ties with the 73-test Wallaby.

"Israel Folau has to go, and will go," the former Australian test player wrote.

"Quick. Clean. Gone. At least until such times as he repents."

"Rugby Australia simply has no choice. They cannot go through one more time the agony of last year when Folau's social media comments trumpeting that gays would go to hell, saw rugby lose sponsors, fans and support," FitzSimons said in the Sydney Morning Herald.

FitzSimons told Larry Williams that this is not a difficult situation for Rugby Australia. 

"That thing put out by Folau was, and I use the word reservedly, a resignation letter. He's not a stupid man. He knows that when he posted that, there was nowhere to go on that." 

According to rugby.com.au, there was a reported clause in Folau's contract negotiations last year that was specific to his use of social media.

The former league and AFL player, now a rugby union star, created tension on social media last year for his stance on homosexuality.

Six months after tweeting his opposition to same-sex marriage, the Wallabies fullback posted on Instagram last April that gays would go to hell.

FitzSimons says that Folau barely held on after that incident, and this will 

"You couldn't, given the experience he had, given the angst there was, given the pressure there was on him, he could not post that and think 'I'm going to survive this in a Wallaby jersey'."

He believes "100 per cent" that Rugby Australia will pull the trigger on this. FitzSimons says that a number of people were including him in letters they are sending to the organisation calling for Folau to go. 

Sponsor Qantas has also come out against Folau's comments. 

“These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support,” the airline said in a statement.

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