The New Zealand Herald

We’re not as tolerant as we’d like to think


The Australian rugby player Israel Folau holds a very harsh view of homosexual­ity. He believes it is a sin and when asked last week, he said gay people were going to hell unless they repented. Not so long ago that statement would have been unremarkab­le coming from someone of Folau’s professed Christiani­ty. Folau is in trouble with his employers, Rugby Australia, and its prime sponsor, Qantas. Both have been supporters of same-sex marriage in Australian’s recent referendum on the subject and the chief executives of Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Super Rugby franchise, the Waratahs, have publicly disassocia­ted their organisati­ons from the views of one of their best players. That was fair enough but then they went further. “We understand Israel’s comment has upset a number of people and we will discuss the matter with him as soon as possible.”

Obviously they are going to ask him to keep his views to himself.

Folau is a prominent figure on both sides of the Tasman. He is married to New Zealand netballer Maria Folau (Tutaia) and spends a good deal of time in Auckland. His religious views have been well known for a long while and they would be of little interest were it not for the over-reaction they are guaranteed to bring from organisati­ons and companies associated with him, going so far as to threaten his freedom of speech.

They do this probably not because they are personally or corporatel­y offended by what he has said, but because they are act on “public relations” advice. This tells them their public image is tarnished when one of their representa­tives expresses a controvers­ial point of view. But is that true? Nobody mistakes Folau’s religious views for those of the game he plays, which bring people of all shades of opinion together.

Those who select players for their prowess on the field have no interest in their religious affiliatio­ns. The Auckland Super Rugby franchise and its major sponsor are so tolerant of Sonny Bill Williams’ religious affiliatio­n that they removed the sponsor’s name from his team jersey. If rugby can respect an Islamic attitude it can surely live with Christian conservati­sm, as can rugby fans and the general public.

Plenty of rugby players, particular­ly those of a Pacific Island heritage, will have conservati­ve Christian beliefs. They are probably afraid to express those views outside their church. The times are not as liberal as we like to think, not as liberal as they were when gender, ethnic and gay rights began to be openly discussed. There is a defensive, protective intoleranc­e of any views that threaten acceptance. The day may come when we are all sufficient­ly secure that different views can be tolerated again.

If rugby can respect an Islamic attitude it can surely live with Christian conservati­sm.

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