Israel Folau and overcoming the hurdle of political correctness

Social media went into meltdown last week when Australian rugby star Israel Folau posted anti-gay messages.

Taking to Instagram last Wednesday, the Australian Wallaby posted a message that said “hell awaits” “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators”, and added that they should “repent” in order to be saved.

The post immediately triggered a public backlash and condemnation within and outside Australia, and comes close to a year after he posted a similar homophobic message on his Instagram account. 

Last Friday the dual international was reportedly stood down indefinitely, with his club NSW Waratahs and the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announcing the termination of his four-year AU$4 million contract Monday evening. 

The Folau controversy throws light on what we call “political correctness” in this day and age. But what is political correctness?

The Collins Online Dictionary defines political correctness as the attitude or policy of being extremely careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who have a disadvantage, or who have been treated differently because of their sex, race, or disability.

So did Folau know the consequences of his actions when he made the post last Wednesday? Yes. He made similar posts on social media in April last year and September 2017 – both also attracting widespread criticism – with the ARU among his biggest critics.

When the former Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos player switched to rugby union in December 2012, he knew what he was getting himself into when he signed up. Over a year later the ARU announced that it was developing an Inclusion Policy, which strived to kick out discrimination and homophobia from the game. 

The then ARU CEO, Bill Pulver, said the policy aims to ensure Australian Rugby continues to be a place where everyone involved feels safe, welcome and included regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

“Developing this Inclusion Policy is important as it demonstrates that Rugby is a game where you feel included and accepted, no matter who you are.

“Australian Rugby is making progress to support social justice and diversity. We want to ensure everyone involved in the game is treated with respect and dignity,” he said at that time.

Suffice to say Folau knew exactly what he was getting into when he put pen to paper on that new contract. The ARU Inclusion Policy evolved and is now part and partial of the Player’s Code of Conduct, and he has now found himself in breach of the Code.

Current ARU CEO, Raelene Castle, released a statement last night advising of Folau’s termination. 

“The Rugby Australia Integrity Unit deemed that Folau had committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment contract. Folau has 48 hours to accept the sanction or have the matter referred to a Code of Conduct hearing,” she said in a statement. 

Again, the issue of political correctness comes to the fore, and whether the Australian rugby star is being forced to align his thoughts and expression with what is “socially acceptable” for other groups is debatable. And he has now paid the price!

His Christian beliefs and commitment to the Assemblies of God (AOG), and their mission to spread the Gospel throughout the world, is manifested in the types of posts he had made on his now controversial Instagram page. Most of his posts are Christian and religious-themed.

But let us not forget too that Folau – when signing his contract – agreed to abide the rules of the ARU including that of how he conducted himself on and off the field. And his social media use including Twitter and Instagram was part of the package.

We need rules in a world of clashing ideologies to maintain some form of conformity and stability in our lives. Looking back in retrospect, perhaps there was an overlap in the rules in Folau’s life: his love for his Church and his God and his love for rugby union. 

Hopefully someone alerted the besieged Australian rugby star to the words of advice offered by Samoan All Black, Ardie Savea.

The Hurricane player, who was in Samoa recently to spend time with family, told Samoa Observer that his Australian colleague should love everyone.

“For me, I’m all about love and compassion and I know for sure that the boss won’t have any problem when I share love,” he said.

 “To each to their own, but when you’re in a position where so many people follow you and look up to you, to put stuff out that’s not about love, you’ve got to be careful and it’s probably not the right thing to do.”

Yes, lets love more – irrespective of gender, colour, religion, ability and disability, and sexual orientation. 

Have a lovely Tuesday Samoa and God bless.

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