Folau broke ranks with the Wallabies during last year’s same-sex marriage debate. (AAP: David Moir)
Sporting idols like Wallabies star Israel Folau need to understand the platform they have and the effect their comments can have on younger people, the president of gay rugby club the Sydney Convicts says.
Folau appears to have escaped sanction from Rugby Australia after he posted on social media in early April that God’s plan for gay people was “HELL”.
Rugby Australia was quick to distance itself from the comments.
And the Australian Human Rights Commissioner offered to meet Folau, saying the player’s comments have the potential to cause “enormous harm among young Australians”.
Don Rose, the president of the Convicts, Australia’s first gay rugby club and four-time winners of international gay rugby tournament the Bingham Cup, said when he first heard Folau’s comments he was personally offended.
“They’re very offensive and something that’s definitely inconsistent with the values of my club and what I stand for,” Rose said.
Rose said Folau needed to be aware of the young children who look up to sport stars like him, who could potentially be dealing with their own sexuality.
“Young kids, young players look up to them and put them on quite a big pedestal,” Rose said.
‘Rugby’s already a hypermasculine sport ‘
During the marriage equality campaign the Wallabies and many of the players backed the yes vote.
Rose said he understood Folau’s argument, that team members were allowed to express their pro-marriage equality views and yet he had come under attack for expressing his own belief.
“But at the end of the day I think whenever we use our voice, if we’re doing it with respect and acknowledging the impacts it can have, he should still be [advocating] his opinion and his voice in a way that’s not damaging or hurtful to others,” he said.
The Wallabies changed their logo on social media to show their support for same-sex marriage. (Facebook: Wallabies)
Rose said he hoped Folau would find a less offensive way to express his opposition to marriage equality and homosexuality.
“I don’t think that a certain opinion should be blocked out of our game,” he said.
“We should all be able to have open, frank discussions in our society, providing it comes from a place of respect and understanding of how it can be received at the other end.
“We’re also talking about a player who is an elite athlete at the top of their career, as opposed to the other end which could be a young kid that has no voice, has no platform, has no opportunity to defend themselves.”
When it came to the impact Folau’s comments might have on young football players, Rose said he could only draw on his own experience as a young boy who looked up to the Wallabies.
“Rugby’s already a hypermasculine sport and it’s extremely difficult for a player that loves the game, [who] is involved in their sport and are trying to deal with their sexuality,” he said.
“My concern is that when a star of a game advocates a position that sends a message that gay people aren’t welcome in our sport, that has damaging effects on that individual.
“But it also sends the wrong message to the other 14 players in the team, who are their mates, that are making comments.
“And that guy, that guy who’s in the closet is then picking up on what they’re saying, because someone that we all look up to is saying, you know, gay people shouldn’t be around, shouldn’t be in our sport.”