Andrew Purchas, the founder of Australia’s first gay and inclusive rugby team the Sydney Convicts, has slammed rugby union star Israel Folau for his viral homophobic comment on social media.
Folau came under intense criticism for writing a now-deleted comment on Instagram on Wednesday that “God’s plan” for gay people was “hell” unless they repented for their sins.
Purchas, the co-founder of advocacy group Pride in Sport, told Fairfax Media the group was “disappointed to see the appalling homophobic comments by a national sporting identity and we unreservedly condemn these remarks.”
“Such statements work against the significant progress that is being made by codes and organisations both on and off the sporting field,” he said.
“In a country that loves sport, we know that remarks made by sporting figures can impact on our culture, as well as influence young people.
“We are particularly concerned with the effect that these homophobic comments can have on younger sporting fans.
“Inclusive environments that respect the diversity of all Australians must extend to the sporting fields, in the stands and broader sporting cultures.”
Pride in Sport is a joint venture that was launched in 2016 by the Australian Sports Commission and Human Rights Commission.
Nine sporting bodies including Rugby Australia, the NRL, AFL, Football Federation Australia and Cricket Australia take part in the “Pride in Sport Index,” a program measuring LGBTIQ inclusion in the respective sporting codes.
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said bosses intended to summon Folau for a discussion about his use of social media.
“Israel’s comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby,” she said.
“We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby’s inclusion policy.
“We understand that Israel’s comment has upset a number of people and we will discuss the matter with him as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson for Qantas, one of the major sponsors of Folau’s team the Wallabies, said, “We’ve made clear to Rugby Australia that we find the comments very disappointing.”
The Australian reported that executives had privately made it known they would not tolerate further controversial statements from Folau or other players regarding homosexuality.