It’s the Second Test in the Lions 2013 tour in Australia. You’ve been rated one of the best new players in the world. Why wouldn’t you? You scored two amazing tries in the previous test despite the loss. It’s a tight match and your opposite winger has taken the ball 10 meters in front of you. To stop the seventeen stone, six-foot-four beast George North a strong tackle is essential. Instead he decides, despite being the one with the ball, North decides to put you on his shoulder and dumper truck you into the ground. A bit embarrassing isn’t it?
(Tackled? Folau in Gold)
What could be worse? Maybe spreading hate in a community which prides itself on inclusivity?
Israel Folau decided that by stating that gay men would be going to ‘hell unless they repent their sins and turn to God,’ he wanted to take the spread hate option.
If you’re a rugby fan or have read the latest on the story in Attitude magazine then you probably think that I’m going a pretty comprehensive band wagon, but inclusivity in rugby is something close to my heart. I have recently had the privilege to being made coach of the local IGR inclusive rugby team, a club that as a few know helped me dramatically with my confidence. I owe Hywel 2.0, out-of-the-closet edition’s confidence to the club.
Folau’s comments on homosexuality, and the wider LGBT community, have the ability to have severe ‘damaging effects’ as Convicts coach Dan Rose stated this week. The most obvious one is on the inclusivity the sport currently operates. The International Gay Rugby organisation, (IGR), is a charitable rugby organisation who incorporates inclusive rugby teams throughout the world. It organises tournaments, like the Bingham and Union Cups, and has over 70 member clubs with many more associated clubs on the side. The IGR’s success at promoting inclusivity for all abilities and backgrounds, twinned with their fight against general homophobia is impressive, but it is still relatively unknown to the majority of clubs. Everyone’s heard of King’s Cross Steelers or Manchester Village Spartans but the message can be lost.
A comment like Folau’s could be taken by those players struggling with their sexuality/gender as a message from the whole rugby community to stay quiet, do not accept yourself as the community does not. With Basteraud calling Sebastian Negri a ‘faggot’ too this year it is concerning that players in top flight rugby still hold such views. Basteraud of course denies he is homophobic, stating that he ‘reacted badly to his [Negri’s] provocation,’ but as Pewdiepie’s casual use of the N word shows, by using a word with such a history of hurt behind it casually, it is offensive. In the worst case these incidences, like openly gay referee Nigel Owens points out, it could tip some players ‘over the edge.’
The severity of such comments is quite serious. What is more unacceptable is the weak sanctions the IRB and international organisations placed on the players. Basteraud only had a three week suspension, missing only one Six Nations match against Ireland. Tom Morgan was given a six match ban for a racist comment in a rugby league match in 2012. Just a three week ban for Basteraud is simply unacceptable. Any hate in sport much be confronted with serious punishments in order to eradicate it.
Of course, censorship is not a way forward in any incident but there needs to be a way of showing that this is unacceptable.
Until the Rugby Australia board or International Rugby Board officially condemn such views the best thing to do is celebrate the inclusivity which rugby operates. (I had to go back to 2012 to find the latest headline concerning a racist incident in rugby). Half of the rugby team I play for are heterosexual, what is more the associate local club we’re attached to is the perfect example of a club being inclusive outside the IGR community. There are several gay players who regularly play for the local side as I do myself.
Those who want to join the rugby community should do so without discrimination. Hence why these clubs, organisations and their message are so important. The wider rugby fans have showed their condemnation of Folau’s views. We need to make a point of all hate in sport, whether it is an opinion or not as they have lasting consequences. Folau is a part of a very small minority who do not believe in equality. The backlash that this view has had has been nothing but embarrassing for him. I hope it has not caused harm. My ticket to hell was bought a long time ago, so I’ll see you there Folau.