Don’t spoil sport by try­ing to make it

Mercury (Hobart) - - OPINION - Is­rael Fo­lau’s com­ments should be looked at in con­text, writes

IS­RAEL Fo­lau’s com­ments on so­cial me­dia touched a raw nerve. I can’t but help but think it’s the is­sue that not only Izzy, but that ev­ery­body got wrong. Rugby Aus­tralia’s re­sponse was over-reach. The me­dia com­men­tary sug­gests this is about the re­li­gious free­dom ver­sus hate speech. That is one core ten­sion, but there are two oth­ers no­body is men­tion­ing.

From the get-go, Fo­lau’s orig­i­nal post was poor. We now live in a cul­ture where you can’t just speak out your truth; you need to take some re­spon­si­bil­ity for how it will be re­ceived. Is­rael didn’t do that. The Chris­tian mes­sage is a

David Ri­etveld

bal­ance of grace and truth, of love and jus­tice. Je­sus does speak out judg­ment, but usu­ally af­ter speak­ing grace. Fo­lau’s post was un­bal­anced, and back-to-front.

Rugby Aus­tralia’s re­sponse was to take the moral high ground, leav­ing Fo­lau the low ground of per­pe­trat­ing hate speech. His post lacks what we now call ‘cul­tural in­tel­li­gence’. But Rugby’s re­sponse was equally clumsy. They adopt a po­si­tion that makes sense to ed­u­cated mid­dle class An­gloSax­ons like them­selves, but not Pa­cific Is­landers.

Let me ex­plain. My brother is mar­ried to an Is­lan­der, and my par­ents have lived there for 15 years. It is dif­fer­ent to Western cul­ture. It is a fam­i­ly­driven cul­ture, not in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic. It is an hon­our shame cul­ture, whereas the West is a guilt in­no­cence cul­ture. For Western­ers, sex­ual ex­pres­sion is an in­di­vid­ual’s choice. It is wrong to tell oth­ers what to do.

In Is­lan­der cul­ture, con­tent­ment is found in be­ing in­te­grated into your co­he­sive fam­ily. Ev­ery­one’s func­tion is to bring hon­our by do­ing things that make the fam­ily proud. When co­he­sion and hon­our come to­gether, ev­ery­one is happy. Joy is a shared state of be­ing.

So what do Is­land cul­tures make of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity? A same-sex at­tracted in­di­vid­ual does not fit neatly into a co­he­sive fam­ily struc­ture. They don’t beget the next gen­er­a­tion of cousins and grand­chil­dren. This brings risks, it’s prob­lem­atic. Pub­licly you speak against it as “sin”. You at­tempt to dis­suade peo­ple from mak­ing a choice that can bring shame to the fam­ily. Pri­vately, you ac­cept the per­son as dif­fer­ent, and you don’t talk about it. It is a taboo topic. This is pre­cisely how Fo­lau re­sponds. It is re­ported he has gay friends and fam­ily mem­bers. But as an in­te­grated mem­ber of a strong Poly­ne­sian fam­ily and Church, it is his place, when asked, to pub­licly speak against sin.

This leads to two as­tound­ing con­clu­sions. First, it is un­fair to de­scribe Fo­lau as ho­mo­pho­bic. He may not af­firm same-sex at­trac­tion as a life­style choice, but he does not have a neu­rotic fear of ho­mo­sex­u­als as per­sons. Sec­ond, Rugby Aus­tralia’s re­sponse se­ri­ously lacks cul­tural in­tel­li­gence. Given that close to half of their play­ers are of Poly­ne­sian or Me­lane­sian de­scent, this is as­tound­ing. Rugby Aus­tralia’s ini­tial re­sponse has a whiff of neo-colo­nial­ism — of racism about it. As a for­mer Aus­tralian Rugby Cap­tain, Nick Farr-Jones has links in­side rugby. He sug­gests the Poly­ne­sian Aus­tralian Rugby play­ers feel ig­nored, not consulted and marginalis­ed in the han­dling of this is­sue.

There is a sec­ond di­men­sion no one is talk­ing about. Is it the place of sports

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