Rugby World Cup – and unravelling the unholy mess with Israel Folau

Discrimination, politics, religion, sex, love, money, lawyers, and sport.




As Siya Kolisi, the first black Springbok Test and most recent World Cup raising captain, would freely admit, rugby is a lot more than just a sporting activity in South Africa. It is a means to unite the nation’s ethnic and racial divisions, and a measure of its political and social progress. Kolisi was born in 1991, the same year that apartheid legislation was abolished, and South Africa’s sporting associations began to be welcomed back into international competition.


Anyone who has seen the Clint Eastwood movie Invictus would understand the nation’s joy when Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok team shirt, awarded the Webb Ellis Cup to François Pienaar for South Africa’s first triumph in 1995. That was 24 years ago, and on that day, besides Mandela there was just one black player in the starting XV, Chester Williams, wearing the national colours. By the time of their second World Cup win in France, 2007, there were still only two.


Yet in the starting XV that beat Wales in the semi-final last month there were six black players: S’busiso Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, and Kolisi, making a total of 11 in Rassie Erasmus’s squad of 31. Despite the progress, there remains deep concern that a necessity for racial quotas could yet plague the South African team for another 24 years. How long should it take before representative team selection is made simply on merit alone?


I don’t know how many reading this are old enough to remember the controversial Springbok tour of New Zealand at the height of South Africa’s international sporting isolation in 1981. Our cross-Tasman neighbours, known for their friendliness and temperance, engaged in mass demonstrations requiring riot police, leading to stadium fencing being torn down, cancelled matches, pitch invasions with tacks sprinkled on the field, and even one match where a light aircraft dive bombed the players with flour. Our Kiwi neighbours made the current extinction rebellion protesters look feeble and half-hearted.


That 1981 Springbok squad included only one, and the first, black Springbok player, the highly talented fly-half, Errol Tobias. One might think that his selection would be celebrated as an achievement by the black community at the time. Not so, as many viewed Tobias as a traitor for taking the opportunity that his and previous generations of black players were systematically denied by apartheid. One of his critics was activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: “He (Tobias) is helping to just an unjust, inhumane political system.”


Israel Folau


As someone born there, I can vouch that there are only three topics of conversation in South Africa: sport, politics, and religion. Yet even these three do not cover the widespread turmoil created by the sacking of one of our nation’s most decorated rugby players, Israel Folau. While purportedly a sporting issue, like the Kiwi populus in 1981, this matter has enraged both rugby and non-rugby people alike. With just one small Instagram post, Folau has taken rugby beyond either sport, or politics, or religion, and into the unholy dominions of sexuality, corporate business with cascading money, and workplace law.




Without overstatement, the timing of Folau’s sacking the week before this year’s May federal election had analysts measuring its effect on voter swing. That religious freedom was included as a topic in pre-election debates was mostly inspired by Folau’s situation, with post-election announcements from both major party leaders, Morrison and Albanese, that religious freedom is an issue that will be addressed during this term of government.




Folau’s Instagram message for which he was expelled informed that “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented. As a linguist, I think many took offense at the severity of the word “hell”, a word so condemning and emotive that we usually only hear it as a term of abuse, even if Folau was aiming at something specifically theological.


While intended to highlight the universality of sin, the short meme was interpreted differently by nearly everyone. Sydney’s most prominent Pentecostal leader, Brian Houston, said it’s no good trying to scare people into believing. Yet Australia’s most famous atheist philosopher, Peter Singer, saw it as Israel showing genuine concern for those he thought were at risk; a spiritual equivalent to government health warnings against the dangers of cigarette smoking.


Yet since the sacking, lest anyone think that these shocking words have not been repeated enough by the world’s media, let us remember that Folau’s quote is scheduled to undergo an even more thorough dissection next year from the highest judges in the land. Those in the Federal Court, with perhaps even less theological training than Raelene Castle, will soon be re-examining Folau’s interpretations of St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Galatians, followed by another likely run through the High Court of Australia.




It’s not hard to find sympathy for Rugby Australia’s position. Following the 62% favourable vote that opened the way for same sex marriage to be legitimised, you could understand them wanting to position rugby at the forefront of progressive change, with their insistence on policies promoting inclusivity and sexual diversity.


This year, I volunteered as a message runner for a local Australian football men’s team, and I’ve witnessed the players’ reaction to hearing a sexually based taunt or insult which has slipped out in anger on the field. This is not acceptable these days, as clubs strive to include everyone from any background.


While the 62% ‘Yes’ vote was a clear majority, the 38% who still endorse the role of traditional marriage is not insignificant. The huge support Folau has received since his sacking demonstrates society’s need to speak further to these issues. So while it’s admirable for Rugby Australia to be tough on any form of bullying, harassment, or discrimination, excluding Folau from representation in the national team was hardly an insightful move. Their action was intended for what purpose, to punish, educate, or silence him? It surely didn’t silence him.




As any loving spouse would do, Maria Folau attempted to support her husband by sharing Israel’s crowd-funding campaign to pay for his legal defence on her own social media accounts. The national netball sponsor, ANZ bank, reacted by condemning her and put the New Zealand team on notice, which sent netball adminis­trators into crisis meetings for days.


Under such an intense spotlight, Maria Folau performed with incredible mental strength to win her club’s best and fairest award. She was the Adelaide Thunderbirds leading goal-scorer for the year and the biggest draw-card in a team trying to rebuild after a series of disastrous seasons.


If only Michael Cheika could have a found a full back somewhere in Australia with such strength of character as Maria Folau to select for his team, he might not have been bundled out of the World Cup so early. Of course, he already had one right under his nose, and I can only think that if Cheika had done or said a little more in support of Folau, things mightn’t have ended so gloomily for him.




The media initially treated Folau’s self-funding appeal to raise money for his legal costs as a humorous aside. Self-funding, they said, ought to be for raising money for sick kids needing operations, or other such charitable causes, not for famous sportsmen with property portfolios. Despite the ridicule, the money poured in like a dam had burst. Folau’s cause was viewed as a rallying point for many ordinary Australians, who somehow understood that feeling of corporate marginalisation, or that “inclusion” was 2019 Orwellian doublespeak.


The phenomenal rate at which the money flowed should have been the angle reported by the news agencies. When before had such a huge amount of money ever come to any private individual, for any reason, so rapidly, simply because they raised their hand and asked for it? After just two or three days, and $2.2 million, the Australian Christian Lobby had to ask people to stop giving, as they had raised more money than they could even imagine how to spend.




Folau’s case so far has followed a similar trajectory to that of the 2002 case against Daniel Scott, who was initially found guilty of religious vilification after accusations from a Muslim group of inciting hatred and contempt under Victoria’s controversial Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001.


The Scott case has many similarities. The new law was being tested in sensitive political times following the September 11 New York attacks. Scott, just as Folau, was claiming a right to freedom of speech; the right to open a traditional religious text and speak openly of its contents. Scott, just as Folau, was initially found guilty, but appealed to a higher court. Scott would have preferred to go to jail rather than pay a fine, even to highlight the injustice of the Victorian law, which he saw as an infringement of every Australian’s right to freedom of speech.


The two parties eventually agreed to mediation, where the matter was resolved. In the Folau case, the Federal Court has similarly compelled Folau and Rugby Australia to another round of mediation in December to try and negotiate a settlement.


Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I’ve said here before that the two parties should have been able to settle the matter through discussion long before this time. If it was up to me, I would lock all parties in a room and tell them they can’t come out until they can agree. In fairness, both Folau and Rugby Australia have said that they have already tried very hard to find a compromise position.


In the Scott case, the two parties eventually agreed to a set of statements, which if modelled, could be somewhat amended and adapted by Folau and Rugby Australia to sound something like what is below. They could each take a humble pill, and be willing to amend or clarify some of their previous comments. Then exiting the room with a hand-shake and the following set statements may even make them look like they’ve each learned something, and moved closer towards real tolerance.


We affirm:


  • that each human being has dignity and worth.
  • that everyone ought to be free to follow their beliefs and convictions within the law.
  • the right to respectfully participate in social debate.
  • the value of respect between those of all sexual orientation, ethnic background, and religious persuasion.


The only difference between the two cases was that Scott’s case was based on Victorian discrimination law, for which he could be fined. However, Folau’s case involves his private player contract, with its concomitant obligation to team/sponsor ethics.


The grey area, however, is that Rugby Australia is supposed to be selecting a team to represent the whole nation, whether black, white, Christian, Muslim, atheist, anyone to the left or to the right of politics, or anyone anywhere else in between, and not just the 62% who voted ‘Yes’ in a plebiscite. If, by conscience of religious conviction, Folau can’t agree to the social agenda inherent in signing a Wallaby contract, he can’t go down the street and offer his professional services to another Australian team. Australia only has one Rugby Union team, the Wallabies, and room must be made for every Australian, regardless of race or creed, to be available for selection in it.




Interestingly, in the 1960s apartheid South Africa did have two different Rugby teams, a White team and a Coloured team. In 1968, South Africa made a sincere application to the Mexico City Olympics Games committee that they would send their White soccer team, and they would then balance this by sending their Coloured soccer team to the 1972 Munich Olympics. The suggestion was rightly rejected as ridiculous, and so South Africa didn’t send either team to either Games.


But Rugby Australia is risking dividing the nation with their so-called ‘inclusion’ policies, with the implication that if you are part the 38% represented by the ‘No’ vote, then you risk not being allowed into a Wallaby scrum.


Siya Kolisi spoke in a publicity video leading up to this year’s Rugby World Cup about his childhood and upbringing. “When you get so hungry sometimes, you tend to want to go steal, and break into people’s houses just so you can eat, but for me that’s when I went to training. … Especially when I put on a jersey, and remind myself whom I’m playing for. Everybody who’s ever been hungry. Everybody who’s ever struggled financially. Everybody who’s walked to school without shoes on. … I’m proud to be a Springbok, but even prouder to be a South African.”


South Africa now has a unified team, and their priority is to put the best players out on the park, from no matter which city or township they can find them. How simple is that! And the result is obvious, a World Cup victory.


Yet how can it possibly be, that in 2019, Australian representative team selection is not made simply on merit alone, but on political or religious expression?


How much easier it would have been for everyone if Rugby Australia had simply said that Folau’s opinions are his own personal views, left it at that, and got on with playing rugby. But going down that path would have seen the matter dissolve far too quickly, and denied us the pleasure of this dramatic soap opera to rival “Brexit”.



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About Michael Viljoen

Michael was born in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, the same as Siya Kolisi, the successful World Cup winning Springbok captain, but was raised in Melbourne with a love for Australian Rules. He has worked as a linguist in Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia, where he wrote a booklet on the history of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions, which was translated into several Cameroonian languages.


  1. Michael – this is the most coherent analysis of the Israel Folau fiasco I think I’ve read.

    Similarities with the Margaret Court conversation too.

  2. Thanks Michael. I really hope this finds the audience it deserves.

    When navigating a path through all of this – and in my view it is a really important issue – I tried to stand in Israel Folau’s position. That’s a challenge in some ways – in some ways not.

    On Offisders I suggested that this was a complex issue and that all parties needed to be respected. I was accused of defending so-called ‘hate-speech’.

    I wanted to say that I thought that for Israel it was not hatespeech but lovespeech. (Imagine if I had said that) But in the world of simplistic group-think where we’re supposed to fall in around an unsophistaicated orthodoxy (good/bad) I did not get the chance to speak. But I did get a comment out about fundamentalism and evangelism and the sense of responsibility, if not obligation, Israel is likely to have felt. (I have never spoken to Israel Folau)

    But then I grew up in a conservative Christan home (which had its heart a radical creed) so I am familiar with those understandings. And I taught at St Peters LC in Brisbane which brought me in to contact with many Papua New Guineans and others from the Pacific who have a particular way of understanding their spirituality – their Christian-ness is theirs. (I worked in the Aus-aid program) I think I am able to empathise with those footballers of Pacific heritage who stand and pray (opponents together) after a game. I have known many students that. I had so much respect for them – young people coming to a foreign country to pursue an education.

    I find a tremendous irony in the fact that those so-called progressives who believe so passionately in difference, and advocate inclusion, preach a dogma in a way that suggests they lack appreciation of difference themselves.

    I’m not sure what I think about it all – but I know I value open discussion about it. And I think some of the ‘progressives’ might look at what power structures they are actually defending.

    Thanks again MV.

  3. george smith says

    Matthew 7: 1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

  4. george smith says

    Conservatives believe fervently in Jesus – until the moment he tells them to give the money back…

  5. And, just for the record, I’m not suggesting all Pacific Islanders have a common understanding of anything, let alone religion, I’m just mentioning an observable characteristic, if not a cultural trait, of those whom I got to know.

  6. george smith says

    If our car breaks down we take it to someone who loves and understands cars. Why oh why do we, gay or straight, entrust our sexuality to those who hate sex…

    And this little progressive has had a gutful about being morally lectured by the morally bankrupt.

    While the lovely Maria is standing by her man with crowd funding, Bishop Anthony Fischer and his mates are pouring money into the defence fund for the convicted paedophile George Pell, while at the same time whingeing about abortion legislation. Us progressive Catholics have no say in the matter.

  7. I had forgotten Israel Folau but have been contemplating Margaret Court. In her case I believe we honour her with the Stadium name etc; and I respect her tireless community work; but I simply find many of her moral/sexuality views simple minded and counterproductive. Homosexuality is as old as man and criminalising/stigmatising creates far more problems than it solves.
    On Folau – would he have really made that much difference in the World Cup? Surely Australian rugby has many more significant structural problems – like being the fourth ranked football code. My understanding is that Rugby Australia had previously negotiated agreements from Folau to desist from this sort of public statement. Quoting religious texts is no defence in my view. Does he condemn men who have sex with a menstruating woman (Leviticus 20:18)? Or demand women be silent in church (Corinthians 14:34).
    There are many similar prohibitions in the Bible demanding death or hellfire. My view is that they are ancient texts that reflect the times of 2000+ years ago. 3 cheers if Folau wanted to say that lifestyle choices were unwise or counter-productive. “Going to hell” is humiliating hate speech. Folau seems to have been manipulated into the public statement by his pastor. For once I agree with Brian Houston. On his sacking I put it in the same category as any employee that says his boss or their major partners are crooks. You can’t bite the hand that feeds you. Choose another line of work if your employer fairly believes you are damaging his product. “Religious Freedom” is a freedom to compassion and not to exclusion and hate. Otherwise Jim Jones will be defending murder on the grounds of the free expression of his self-proclaimed religion.

  8. Michael Viljoen says

    Peter B,
    While I normally respect you for your level headed comments, you’ve just said quite a few things that are totally unreasonable and need to be set straight.

    For Margaret Court, I’ve just today suffered through listening to a sports show on ABC radio that was supposedly there to help promote women’s sport. These hypocritical women had the gall to say that Court did not deserve the same honour in celebrating her grand slam achievement as Rod Laver. Such hypocrisy is further evidence, as if we needed more, that the ABC is consumed by its own Leftist bubble, and is beyond hope of reform. May it quickly disband or be sold.

    However, despite homosexuality in the past being in the criminal statute books for a long time in Western law, this has nothing to do with Margaret Court. Such utterances have never passed her lips. It is unreasonable and unfair for you to attempt to smear that on her.

    Yes, Rugby Union may be the country’s fourth football code, but this hasn’t stopped us being world champion in other recent years. So this does not excuse the incompetence of those currently in charge.

    Folau has recently stated loudly and publicly that he had no special agreement with RA regarding social media clauses, other than what is in any standard player contract. With his current legal proceedings underway, he would not state this so openly unless it were true.

    If Folau ever stated that he took a negative view to men sleeping with their menstruating wives, or had strong views about females within the hierarchical structure of the Presbyterian church, or if he thought the moon was made of green cheese, who cares? His job was to play Full back for the Wallabies, and his qualifications for this were second to none. None of his personal beliefs should disqualify him from his well earned position. To say otherwise is frankly, a form of bigotry.

    Folau never “bit the hand that fed him”. He was not damaging the boss’s product. Rugby Australia’s business was (supposedly) to play rugby, and Folau was a wonderful exponent and great promoter of the sport. Promoting a particularly political leaning social agenda is not rugby’s core business. Likewise for Qantas, their business is air transportation, not setting the nation’s social agenda.

  9. george smith says

    “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

    A team of hmm, maybe Christianity ain’t such a good idea:

    B. Jose Sisson Brigham Young Bob Santamaria
    HB. Danny Nalia, Cardinal Torquemada, José Escriva
    C. Joseph Smith, George Pell, Gerard Risdale
    HF. David Koresh Jim Jones Jimmy Swaggart
    F. Fred Phelps, Sr, Charlie Manson, L.Ron Hubbard
    R. Rulon Jeffs, Jim Bakker, Marshall Herff Applewhite, Jr.
    Res: Sonny Gambino, Frank Houston, Radovan Karadzic, Ian Paisley

    Sorry, Folau and Court didn’t make the team, not important enough.

  10. Well done Michael. With Israel Folau i’ve found it incredibly tedious to hear about his ‘homophobic’ remark. I like many others can have/may be described as a drunk, atheist, or a fornicator. If you were simply talking statistics there are more Australians who can be labled under those terms, than there are homosexuals in Australia. Yet Folau’s rant is solely described as ‘homophobic’ as if that’s the only group he lambasts.

    Similarily we have this manufactured ‘outrage’ about Margaret Court. She like Israel Folau belongs to what best can be described as a superstitious cult. Seriously in 2020 why do we give any undue weight to their babble.

    In our constitution we’re meant to be a secular nation. In every census over the last three decades less and less people identify as religious. Combine that with the feigned PC outrage over the comments made by some vocal elements in response to the utterances of these sporting figures, we seem to have a perfect storm.

    Let’s recognise Margaret Court and Israel Folau for what they’re best at: their sporting achievements, rather than give credibility to their inane comments.


  11. Michael Viljoen says

    Well said, Glen! I entirely agree. We are a secular nation.
    The definition of our secular nation is quite clear from our Constitution, where it says that a requirement for holding office does not depend on any religious confession. By corollary, no confession will disqualify you from holding office.
    So when anyone stands to be honoured for representing our nation, such as at the Tennis Centre, or at national representation in the rugby team, religious considerations ought not bring favour or prejudice, but due honour ought be given simply by merit of their contribution to the sport.
    We all have a different opinion of what is inane. So as you say, if a sportsperson believes something that you or I, or someone else thinks is wacky, we must set that aside and simply look at their sacrifice, endeavour, and achievement in the sport.
    Anything else is un-Australian.

  12. Michael, there’s a complex discussion to be had here. Unfortunately what we’re mostly getting is people on both sides demanding tolerance whilst speaking intolerantly.

    I see the Court somewhat situation differently from Folau. Folau has actually been punished by an employer. Court simply thinks she deserves more acclaim or celebration than she’s getting. I’m not sure you can mandate your own level of public acclaim.

    In general, I think we should focus on the art, not the artist, lest we end up obliterating everything. And I definitely think we should remain a secular, rational society at least in how our institutions act. But just remember, it was Folau and Court who asserted their religious beliefs to start this whole ball rolling.

    There’s been much to ponder in the piece and subsequent comments. But unfortunately, the discussion seems to descending into lazy cliches about ‘leftist ABC bubbles” and that most toxic of phrases, ‘un-Australian’.

    At which point, you’ve lost me.

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    If Margaret Court had her way, perhaps there would have been a different winner in the World Cup

    “Overlooked during her current evisceration in the court of public opinion, and in Court’s cries of injustice and persecution, is the fact that for a purveyor of such divisive opinions she has actually had a charmed run. In 1970, Court kicked things off by praising South Africa’s apartheid policy (“South Africans have this thing better organised than any other country, particularly America,” she said. “I love South Africa. I’ll go back there any time.”), for which she received very little lasting scrutiny.”

  14. Michael,

    If Rugby Australia’s sacking of Folau contributes to the positive outcomes identified in the following excerpt (from they are to be applauded (and heck, I’ll applaud even if it doesn’t!)

    ‘Impact of same-sex marriage

    The establishment of same-sex marriage is associated with a significant reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among children, with the effect being concentrated among children of a minority sexual orientation (LGB youth). A study of nationwide data from across the United States from January 1999 to December 2015 revealed that the rate of attempted suicide among all schoolchildren in grades 9–12 declined by 7% and the rate of attempted suicide among schoolchildren of a minority sexual orientation (LGB youth) in grades 9–12 declined by 14% in states which established same-sex marriage, resulting in approximately 134,000 fewer children attempting suicide each year in the United States. The researchers took advantage of the gradual manner in which same-sex marriage was established in the United States (expanding from 1 state in 2004 to all 50 states in 2015) to compare the rate of attempted suicide among children in each state over the time period studied. Once same-sex marriage was established in a particular state, the reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among children in that state became permanent. No reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among children occurred in a particular state until that state recognized same-sex marriage. The lead researcher of the study observed that “laws that have the greatest impact on gay adults may make gay kids feel more hopeful for the future”.’

  15. Michael – I applauded Margaret Court at last week’s Fed Cup final in Perth as a great tennis player and community worker and I don’t want the Stadium name changed. But I see no reason to change my views that she is a destructive bigot on issues of sexuality.
    As for Folau there are obviously complex issues of contract law about what undertakings were given when and by who. But the most telling point against Folau’s catch-all moral condemnation was this by Andrew Purchas in a piece by Malcolm Knox in the Monthly. “Of the miscreants he listed, the only one where you don’t have a choice is your sexuality. The inference is that you are able to change. This flies in the face of all science and experience, and what Folau said equates to saying if you’re gay, you’re not ‘normal’.”
    Calling out destructive behaviour is good even if the “hell” reference is simplistic. Calling out identity is hateful and shaming. We have centuries of evidence of the homosexuality being a normal behaviour within the range of human identity. Folau’s statements are outdated, simplistic and destructive. Businesses and individuals use their financial power to influence behaviour all the time. Look at political donations and campaigns by the mining and gambling lobbies. If Folau was my employee I would tolerate his statements up to a point where it either a) disrupted team coherence or b) undermined my financial base. b) seems clear. not sure about a) – as you say there are many odd bedfellows within sporting teams united by common cause of winning. Folau and Pocock probably co-exist within the parameters of team.

  16. All I hope for is that, in the analysis of this ‘issue’, there is an acknowledgement that people come from different starting points. It seems to me that very few of the initial commentators chose to address the complexities, nor to try to understand Folau. But, who knows what goes on in Israel Folau’s heart. I don’t. Many so-called progressives are in fact looking to assert their own orthodoxy. I think all orthodoxies should be scrutinised and challenged. Folau’s included. As for my own view on this particular situation/issue, I don’t agree with what Folau said. And I don’t think he should have lost his position over it. (And that has nothing to do with Australia’s chances on the field).

  17. Michael Viljoen says

    Dear John Butler,
    I do not use the term “un-Australian” lightly or flippantly. I used it in response to Glen’s comment in regard to the Australian Constitution. Our Constitution, by definition, lies at the foundation of our nation, and I would expect our national institutions, such as the Wallabies, to act alongside its principles.

    It is the High Court of Australia which has the responsibility to interpret the Constitution. And there is a chance that Folau’s case will appear before the High Court of Australia sometime next year. At that time, we will have more of an idea as to whether Rugby Australia acted reasonably in dismissing Folau, and so whether their actions can fairly be described as “Australian” or “un-Australian”.

    Accusing the ABC of being “trapped in a Left wing bubble” may also sound flippant. But I come to this conclusion after many years of tears and sweat, after wasting many hours and much ink writing letters to the ABC. I’ve possibly written more letters of complaint to the ABC regarding ABC bias than I have written posts to the Almanac. I say I was wasting my time, as my experience is that despite its government funding, and the concept of “balance” being prescribed by its Charter, the ABC does not understand the term. It can barely spell it.

    I will agree with you that the issues regarding Folau and Court are complex. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it was their recent comments that started the whole ball rolling. It is much more complex than that. It goes back at least 50 years to when Rod Laver and Margaret Court each won their respective Grand Slam, and the comparison between mens and womens sport. And even possibly goes back about 2,000 years, to when St Paul wrote his letters to the churches. Folau can interpret, but he can’t change what Paul wrote.

  18. I have found it mildly amusing throughout the whole Folau matter that the persons making the loudest protests about what he said are almost certainly 100% non-believers in hell or any such concept. What, therefore, are they concerned about if all he has said is that they will go to a place they do not believe exists? Bit like saying their skin will turn purple and their kneecaps drop off.

  19. Michael Viljoen says

    You say that if sacking Folau makes a positive contribution to suicide rates, then that would be a good thing. To me, that sounds like stringing a long bow.

    It would be good to talk about suicide rates. It would be good to talk about other serious problems afflicting young people. Talking through things is good. As I tried to say in my main post, I think it is good that the Federal Court has ordered Folau and RA into mediation, and force them to dialogue further. While some applaud Folau’s sudden sacking as quick and decisive action by RA, it risk’s turning him into a martyr with an even bigger platform.

  20. Stringing a long bow, eh?

    Michael, humour me, and put yourself in the shoes of a LGBTI teenager. And I’ll make it easier for you too: one that has been indoctrinated into a world of Judeo Christian beliefs. How are you feeling on the day of Folau’s sacking? How you also feeling about Australian Rugby?

  21. Well said Bucko. I don’t understand why people want to give credibility to his babble, unless it suits their own agenda’s.

    It’s similar to a lot of people who have never had an interest/understanding about horse racing proudly proclaiming, ‘nup to the cup’. Good on them, but this ‘groundswell’ of interest/opposition had me wondering.

    Folau’s comments are not to be taken seriously,or given widespread publicity, unless it suits someone’s agenda. I stated back on 16/11 about the feigned PC outrage over these sort of inane comments; here we go again.


  22. george smith says

    There are lots of Bolshies lurking about the ABC at Songs of Praise, Landline and the Country Hour. If you know anything about the ABC you would know that conservative politicians such as Susan Ley use it to get their point across, without being interrupted by commercials. Young Liberals are paid to get on ABC talkback and rabbit on about Keating and it’s Labor’s fault. Since Rupert put up a paywall, a lot of his cheersquad has drifted over to free forums like this one to spout right wing claptrap. You’re not heroes…

    St Paul also said “slaves obey your masters”. This has been set aside by most.

    “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”. Mark 10:25. According to some, there was a gate outside Jerusalem called the Eye of the Needle, where camels were stripped of their loads before entering the narrow gate. It took Stephen Fry, yet another that Folau has in the gun, to point out that the gate never existed. Like most things that conservatives use to justify their greed, they made it up.

  23. For the record, I think Israel Folau’s comments on the bushfires are way off the mark and I think he was terribly insensitive to assert that position. That is the same view I have of his earlier comments about going to hell.

    For the record, my interest in, and need to understand, why he is saying them remains the same.

  24. george smith says

    “The Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce said it was pointless to engage with Folau. “He throws rocks at us so he feels good, we throw rocks back at him so we feel good … but not one of those actions is making a sandwich for a person fighting the fires,” Joyce told the Seven Network. Guardian 18.11.19”

    Wow, it truly is a miracle, Folau spake and in reply even Barnaby Joyce made sense!

  25. Michael Viljoen says

    “Stringing a long bow” was being generous. I should have said stringing a very long bow.

    You’re attempting to link suicide with some off the wall comment of a rugby player. People thinking about suicide are likely to have much more profound and longer term difficulties.

    But I’ll humour you, as you suggest. How would I feel if I were in these shoes, the day a professional rugby player was sacked, someone who has no real influence on my daily life? Perhaps a hundred different things. Who can know? That’s a hypothetical. If I didn’t like him, then I might be pleased at his demise. However, if I am reliant on such motivation, think what will happen the day when the Federal Court overrules the decision of RA, and declares that his dismissal was wrong and unjust? On that day, I’m hoping that the link that you say might be there is really very tenuous.

    Let’s think it through a little more. If I were buoyed and happy that a Bible quoting player is sacked from a rugby team, that doesn’t alter the biblical reference. It’s still there written in the Bible. So I’d either learn to deal with it, or it might be necessary for the rugby authorities to sack all of the players who have ever walked into a church carrying a Bible. It might be necessary, in the maintenance of my health, for the rugby authorities to not allow anyone in the team who follows any traditional religion, or anyone belonging to the roughly 38% of the population who supported traditional marriage and voted “No” in the plebiscite. The rugby authorities could join forces with the autocrats and the new thought-police.

    This is the logical conclusion to what you are suggesting. The way things are going, I suppose it’s not all that far-fetched.

  26. Eh’nt! Wrong answer, Michael. You’re feeling hopeful and grateful. Hopeful that actions like this might make the world a better place one day and grateful to Rugby Australia for their stance on bigotry.

    And just some observations on your Z grade attempt to get in those shoes:

    “You’re attempting to link suicide with some off the wall comment of a rugby player.” Off the wall is right. And funny how you later go on to say this, ‘a Bible quoting player is sacked from a rugby team, that doesn’t alter the biblical reference. It’s still there written in the Bible.’ So Folau’s ‘off the wall’ comment is right there in the Bible, eh? Perhaps we should sack the Bible as well then?

    ‘People thinking about suicide are likely to have much more profound and longer term difficulties.’ Yes that’s true, but that’s diluting/deflecting the issue. We are concerning ourselves with LGBTI teenagers – the group most likely to have been harmed by Folau’s Bible bashing – who studies have *proved* respond positively to a more accepting world.

    ‘However, if I am reliant on such motivation, think what will happen the day when the Federal Court overrules the decision of RA, and declares that his dismissal was wrong and unjust? On that day, I’m hoping that the link that you say might be there is really very tenuous.’ Getting ahead of yourself there, Michael. And after Folau’s straightjacket worthy behaviour yesterday, I think that’s looking less and less likely .But my actual criticism is …. WTF? Reliant on such motivation? Would you as a LGBTI teenager really be feeling reliant on the sacking of bigots and in need of motivation to stay LGBTI, as if you had a *choice* in being LGBTI? Michael, your ignorance of their identity and state of mind staggers me.

    ‘So I’d either learn to deal with it, or it might be necessary for the rugby authorities to sack all of the players who have ever walked into a church carrying a Bible. It might be necessary, in the maintenance of my health, for the rugby authorities to not allow anyone in the team who follows any traditional religion.” Sh********t, talk about stringing long bows!! Yes Michael, that’s where all this is heading: we’re gonna have to shut down all religions because of the sensitivities of a minority group. Fairdinkum, that’s the sloppiest bit of hyperbole I’ve come across! And as if this is really a slippery slope? All anyone is saying to Folau (and idiots like him) is freedom of religious expression does not entitle you to hatespeak. It’s that simple. Don’t hatespeak and we’ll get along just fine. Is that too much to ask?

    ‘The rugby authorities could join forces with the autocrats and the new thought-police. This is the logical conclusion to what you are suggesting.” And yet another strung bow! Sacking a hatespeaker is descending the world towards an Orwellian Dystopia, is it?

    Michael, unless you make a genuine effort to see it from a LGBTI perspective, I’m not interested in anything else you have to add on this matter. The way I see it, we were all getting along just fine until Folau made his ‘off the wall’ quotes from the Bible, and the only perspective I’m interested in is the people he harmed. The LGBTI community are the victims here, not freedom of expression.

  27. Thank you for this article Michael V.
    The world is messy.

  28. Michael Viljoen says

    Thanks for your response. It’s good for you to remind me that I need to try harder to see things from an LGBT perspective, and not just from a free speech angle. But as John Harms said above, there are also not many making an effort to try and understand Folau’s true meaning or motives behind his statements.

    You’re saying that LGBT people naturally benefit from greater acceptance (as would we all), and in that regard they got a win with the changing of the marriage laws. I don’t know to what extent Folau’s comment was in reaction to those law changes. Some think he was deliberately targeting homosexuals in his comment. Others say that wasn’t his intention at all.

    So, what you’ve said raises this question for me. How to decide when someone has committed a crime of hate speech? As noted in my main post and by others above, there are quite a few different interpretations of what Folau has said. Some say it’s hate speech. Others say it was nothing of the sort. So who decides? In this case, it was his employer, and we’ll soon see if they are able to defend their decision through the Federal Court and High Court.

  29. Good on you, Michael. Glad to hear the LGBTI perspective will also be in your scope. As for Folau’s? I really can’t see how a case can be made that he is trying to ‘save souls’, or whatever other constructive angle his apologists could make? My gut is that same sex marriage irks him. How else could you explain his wrathful, brimstone and fire approach? But if it is the case that he’s trying to reach out to ‘lost souls’, I think the soundest advice someone could give him is to tone it down a couple of hundred notches. Better still, to just shut the f@$* up and let ‘sinners’ take their chances. After all, the god he believes in is supposed to be merciful and forgiving, yes? Anyways, it’s gonna be an interesting court case. And especially so considering his bush fire rant – I mean that was so nutty, he could end sitting in court in a straightjacket!

  30. This is a vexed issue, to which the above comments attest.

    Folau’s “bushfire” comments were not ‘nutty’ at all. They were consistent with many of his other comments.
    I was more bemused by the reactions of condemnation by the free-speech warriors: it seems that mentioning the bushfires was a bridge too far…

  31. Hey Smokie. Hope you’ve been well.

    Look mate, I reckon your cafeteria Christian type doesn’t like the idea of a wrathful god going around starting bushfires. That’s ugly. They prefer the notion of a loving god who offers them hope and meaning. Calling the bushfire thing nutty, and feeling that I’m not being offensive, therefore sits snugly with me. And I think the shitstorm this week vindicates as much. But as for whether I’ve been unfair on Folau, I think you have a point. It is consistent with the other things he said, in that it they’re all reconcilable with passages in the Bible. So why did I single out a bushfire starting god as nutty and not the notion of a god who keeps a jailor on the payroll to torture LGBTI people for all eternity? Well, I guess I just did now, so why flesh this out any further.

  32. Paul Spinks says

    Unfortunately, we seem to have become a nation obsessed with silencing anyone we think has caused offence. Or, at least, those holding the public bugles want to do this (I think the general public is quite happy to discuss these issues, and many do in private, over a drink at parties or BBQs etc, and in forums like this).

    The trumpeting is often accompanied by a self-righteousness presumption about how others feel, along with a tendency to attack the person rather than the argument (an intolerant tolerance?), because it’s easier to do that – playing the argument requires exercising reason and reflection.

    Folau and Court are two examples, but there are many other dissenters on various issues, and the risk can be that we push some into more extreme positions. For what it’s worth, I suspect Folau’s comments were motivated by concern, and I agree with John’s take.

    The ABC was referenced in some above comments. Despite my championing of that organisation, if I have one criticism of the ABC today, particularly in regard to social issues, it is that it has too many buglers and insufficient devil’s advocates – a lacking of journalistic rigour even. In many ways it is bordering on tabloid (particularly the website version). I would suggest similarly about the Age.

    As I like to say – there’s the media view of the world and the real world, and the two are worlds apart.

  33. george smith says

    Journalistic rigour – have you read the Daily Rupert (Pravda for rednecks) lately? There is no concern expressed by Folau, or Court or any of the right, but yet again a statement defending their privileges. If it means that Abbott and co tell “Abo” jokes in private, instead of in public forums, that is not such a bad thing.

    The world has changed since 1950. The world is allowed to read what it wants. Banned books like Lolita and Lady Chatterley are now university texts. There are over 16 different forms of contraception, all of them vilified by the likes of Jose Sisson of the Philippines as abortifants, just in case conception took place – in 99.9% of cases it didn’t. Sex has finally become recreation, not on the two occasions in a 40 year marriage that resulted in conception, as couples are actually allowed to plan their families. Some choose not to have children at all. Small families have replaced large families much to the chagrin of the fundamentalists. Divorce is easier to obtain, but Family Courts are under threat from angry exes, not to mention the churches war against divorce. Single mums are able to keep their babies, and not have to go through the horrors of Darlinghurst Women’s Home – being told by Sister Mary Bossy Boots to get dressed and go home and not even look at the baby the girl has just given birth to – bit of a contrast to the crocodile tears over “the unborn”. We have finally brought some sexual predators in the church to account, although the resources allocated to their defence compares to that of an ordinary female teacher who did her time in prison for sex with an underage boy, and is now banned from Church property. Gay people have been bashed, thrown off the Gap and vilified by heroes of their own mind. under Putin, Russia has seen a large rise in gay related hate crimes. under Joh Bjelke Peterson, gay men were jailed and bashed by the cops, just for being gay.

    We have apologised again and again for their crimes, but they will not accept the apology on their behalf. Instead of humility we get arrogance, instead of generosity to those worse off we get selfishness and greed. Bravery and free speech my aaaaa…

    “along with a tendency to attack the person rather than the argument” – if I attack Rupert smith or Margaret Y in a personal manner, then i will have my posterior handed to me in a libel suit. I do not want to dwell on specifics, but commenting on legal cases after they are resolved could bring out the libel suit. There is no freedom of expression.

    And another thing, I notice that when these mighty warriors of free speech are confronted by a Queen, or an Archbishop, or a Wing Commander, or even a Rupert, the fist of fury becomes the wave of uncertainty, the back of iron bends like a willow, the knee of oak trembles to the ground and they become snivelling grovelling courtiers.

  34. Gday Michael,

    I have another hypothetical, if you can humor me again.

    One of Folau’s Wallaby teammates tweets the following (and presents it in the same graphics of Folau’s)?:


    The gullible
    The superstitious
    Unquestioning types
    Those who can’t hack the reality that it’s all meaningless



    The player’s apologists make a case that the tweet was motivated by concern, going on to explain that the player cares about what’s true and wants to save people from manipulation. They gall you even more by arguing that the player isn’t just targeting Christians, he’s concerned with all sorts of idiocy and unscientific thinking. But you know in your gut that he’s really just after big game like religion and that he’s not at all concerned with you, he just plain hates you. It’s palpable.

    Now Michael, after suffering through that the way the LGBTI community did after Folau’s tweet, do you want this person representing the Wallabies?

  35. Michael Viljoen says

    I’m sorry if my main post wasn’t clear enough. I believe in freedom of speech. I am totally of the belief that unless people can speak freely and openly to issues, democracy is pointless, and society is hamstrung.

    If some member of the national rugby team wanted to announce his beliefs along the lines you suggest, then those are his beliefs. His words largely reflect back upon himself, and him alone. If his words carry any logic or persuasiveness, then he might gain some following. If you don’t like his words, then counter his argument with one of your own. In a democracy, we fight words with words.

    My favourite code is AFL, and this whole kerfuffle with RA made me think of some of the causes that the AFL has adopted in recent years. Actually, I quite like the AFL’s Indigenous Round celebrating indigenous culture, and the Anzac Day Round commemorating the sacrifice of the armed forces. But the AFL surely must realise that are pushing the limit of how many causes they can make us adopt. People mainly just want to go and enjoy a good game of footy. We usually see football as something that can bring us together and give us an escape from politics.

    Consequently, when all of this legal wrangling began earlier this year about Fola’s words, I read that the head of NSW Rugby admitted to having doubts about whether this cause that Rugby Union has taken on is really all that worth it. They’re fighting for some strange principle, some half-baked social agenda; fighting against a guy who is fighting for his life, or at least his livelihood, who has plenty of support from all around Australia from both rugby and non-rugby people alike. It’s hardly their business to be spending millions defending somebody else’s social policy all the way to the High Court of Australia.

    It was starting to dawn on this bloke from NSW Rugby that perhaps defining Australia’s social agenda is best left to others, maybe politicians, for example. For Rugby Australia, their core business is actually to play rugby. They’ve chosen the wrong hill to die on. They got on the wrong tram.

  36. Michael Viljoen says

    Pete, could I add some words from Darren Kane, a well known sports journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald. He’s on your side, in the sense that he thinks Folau’s words were potentially harmful. He said, “The circulation of such material from someone in Folau’s position of influence is really quite dangerous in that it’ll be seen, interpreted and ruminated upon by thousands of our fellow citizens still trying to figure themselves out.”

    Yet even Darren Kane believes the punishment given by RA to Folau was ridiculously harsh. Here’s some more of what he said in the SMH:

    “To start, might it be useful to contrast Israel Folau’s conduct — in publishing his own summary of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 – against the myriad high crimes and felonies which don’t secure you a lifetime ban from professional sport in Australia, Great Britain and elsewhere? So, what did Folau NOT do?

    “Well, he didn’t lay the boot into his heavily pregnant wife’s stomach, while she lay on the floor, cowering in the foetal position.
    Nor did he pick up his ex-girlfriend and hurl her into a garage door at 2am following an epic bender.
    Folau didn’t kick the livin’ bejesus out of an unconscious man lying in the gutter, outside a nightclub.
    Folau hasn’t intentionally smashed an opponent’s jaw to smithereens, in a pre-meditated on-field incident.
    He didn’t gouge at an opponent player’s eyes.
    Not once has Folau reckoned upon sticking his index finger up opponents’ bums as being a red-hot, stealthy defensive strategy.
    Not even on one occasion has Folau been accused either of unlawfully distributing intimate videos without the consent of those filmed, or of mistreating women in any other way.
    Never has Folau been caught drink-driving; not even after having a 13-hour break from the schooners and thinking he’d be under 0.05.
    Folau hasn’t been charged with any crime.
    Folau hasn’t racially abused his opponents; hectored at them as “monkeys”.
    Folau hasn’t manhandled referees, assaulted teammates and bashed them to a pulp.
    Never once has he tested positive to using prohibited substances either in or out of competition.
    Folau’s never placed bets on opposition teams to win, or lose.
    Folau hasn’t been caught red-handed, in the throes of orchestrated sports cheating, or scheming to rig the system. He hasn’t even chewed on “blood capsules” at the crucial point of a pivotal game, to stop time.
    Folau isn’t accused of standing over young and impressionable teammates; compelling them to dope, cheat, go to church or do anything else, with the threat of being expelled from the team if they refused.
    Now had Folau done any of those things, then maybe he’d be assured of World Cup selection.
    Because with maybe one or two exceptions, the professional athletes who actually did do these things weren’t banned from their sport for life.”

    “But it’s also my opinion that it would be wickedly harsh, unreasonable and completely out of step with the values that we hold dear in Australia to sack Folau; to terminate his four-year, multi-million-dollar employment contract. Folau has done nothing more than publish either Bible passages or his interpretations of them.”

    Darren Kane. May 10, 2019
    Sydney Morning Herald

  37. Okay Michael. I guess that’s the kind of world you want. It’s not what I want. As much as I despise religion, I don’t want it attacked in the witless manner that Folau employed when attacking LGBTI people. That just regresses free-speech into mudslinging. And I think there lies the dilemma for Folau’s apologists: are they defending free speech or are they *really* defending hate? ‘Cos condemning people to eternal damnation sure ‘quacks’ like hate to me; *even* with the immunity of its lineage to a bunch of Bronze Age myths.

    PS: assault, reckless behavior etc strike me as a different beast to Folau’s. They involve heated emotions in combustible situations, whereas Folau’s condemnations seem calculated. And even if I’m wrong, I expect there would have been contrition in all those cases, whereas Folau has remained defiant (about his right to harm.) But I think you’ve found something we can both agree on: they are all appalling and sport is the loser when it accommodates offenders like these,

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