WHILE Pride in Sport Index (PSI) – a programme in Australia set up to help sporting organisations with the inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community – has welcomed today’s news that top rugby player Israel Folau’s contract has been terminated because of his homophobia, Christians will no doubt be screeching ‘persecution!’
But PSI co-founder Andrew Purchas reacted by saying:
We commend Rugby Australia, as well as New South Wales Rugby Union, for their leadership and courage throughout this process. Their swift and decisive actions shows that homophobic and transphobic discrimination is not acceptable in sport and individuals – irrespective of their social or professional stature – will be held accountable for their words and actions.
The Pentacostal full-back, 30, was sacked in April but requested a hearing, which was conductd by a three-person panel that found him guilty of a “high level breach” of RA’s player code of conduct and upheld the dismissal.
Folau, who had a RA deal until 2022, has 72 hours to appeal against the ruling and is considering his options.
An appeal would mean a second code of conduct hearing with the same evidence but a new panel, while he could also try to take his case to Australia’s Supreme Court.
New South Wales Waratahs’ Folau, who escaped punishment for similar comments last year, said in a statement he was “deeply saddened” by RA’s decision.
It has been a privilege and an honour to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love. 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.
RA Chief Executive Raelene CastleFolau said:
This outcome is a painful situation for the game. Rugby Australia did not choose to be in the situation, but Rugby Australia’s position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue the course of action resulting in today’s outcome.
This issue has created an unwanted distraction in an important year for the sport and for the Wallabies team. But our clear message for all rugby fans is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork.
Folau has recently lost sponsorship deals with Land Rover, who withdrew a car issued to him, and sportswear brand Asics.
Two years ago, Purhas, above, founder of Australia’s first gay rugby union club, the Sydney Convicts, was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for:
Service to rugby union and to the promotion of social inclusion for LGBTI people.
Purchas was instrumental in bringing the Bingham Cup to Sydney in 2014 and has been the driving force behind a number of anti-homophobia and inclusion initiatives in sport.
While thrilled to receive the honour, he said there was still much to be done.
This represents the contribution of a large number of people in working towards equality in sport regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite significant social advances in the recognition of rights of gay and transgendered people, discrimination in sport continues to be both common and damaging.
Without pro-active initiatives, at all levels of sport, this discrimination will continue to have a very negative impact on the ability for LGBT people to enjoy the many benefits that sports offer.
Three gay rugby clubs now operate in Australia, with the Brisbane Hustlers and the Melbourne Chargers joining the Convicts.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn