Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Wrestling with the sacking of Israel Folau

  • 07 May 2019
  The post on Instagram by Australian Wallaby, Israel Folau, is an example of the impact of our use of social media, and of the complex issues that are raised by it.

Folau posted a passage from St Paul's biblical Letter to the Galatians (chapter 5 verses 19-21), along with a warning that hell awaits eight categories of people unless they repent, in the conviction, as Folau posts, that Jesus loves them and desires their repentance. His post caused immense offence to members of the LGBTQI community and many others, as it referenced homosexuals, even though this reference is not in St Paul's list of 'sins of the flesh'.

Folau is a lay minister in his church and has been filmed preaching and baptising. There is no doubt that he, as an evangelical Christian with a literal understanding of the text, believes a whole lot of people will go to hell unless they repent.

But he is also an Australian representative, a sporting hero to many, and a contracted player for Australian Rugby. In that position, many found his post to be unacceptable hate-speech that violated the sport's code of conduct. Rugby Australia determined that he should show good cause why his $4 million contract should not be terminated. In all likelihood, the case will go to the courts.

Important issues around the role and responsibility of professional sport stars, the relationship of sport to social policy, sport as a business, and the rights and limits of free speech all come into play in what is emerging as a significant case in Australian public life. Numbers of commentators have taken up his case and some voices have linked it to a perception of attacks on religious freedom.  

I remain conflicted about the sacking of Folau, as I believe his case does raise questions around important issues in a society that values diversity and that promotes inclusivity and tolerance.

Highly paid sports stars are indeed role models, and to publicly canvas that gay people risk going to hell because of their orientation has an impact on young people and their wellbeing and safety. A sporting star has clear responsibilities in this area to weigh the consequences of their words or actions. It is appropriate for governing sports bodies to enforce codes of conduct in this area and to insist on the responsibility of players.


"Is Australian Rugby heading dangerously towards imposing a religious or a political test for