Andrew Webster: Israel Folau has every right to express his same-sex marriage stance
OPINION: Israel Folau has every right to say he does not support same-sex marriage – just as David Pocock has every right to say he does.
Something strange and beautiful is happening in Australian sport this week.
Who'd have ever thought we'd see the day when two heterosexual Wallabies players would create national news over social media comments about marriage equality?
Alas, the reaction of many telling Folau to keep his opinions to himself are disappointing. They cloud an important social issue because it distorts the debate into one about freedom of speech when it should be about marriage equality.
Folau hasn't crossed a line.
Personally, I don't agree with him and it saddens me because Folau is a world-class athlete with thousands of supporters and his voice is an important one. Just two years ago, he very publicly condemned homophobia. Rugby, in many respects, has been a leader in this area.
But if his religious faith or otherwise means he doesn't back marriage equality then it's his choice.
It is completely different to the rancid comments of former Knights player Ryan Stig, who four years ago compared homosexuality to the work of the devil and alcoholism.
I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage.✌❤🙏— Israel Folau (@IzzyFolau) September 13, 2017
When Folau is attacked for voicing his own beliefs, it politicises the issue into something that it is not or ever meant to be.
While the AFL and FFA have been riding the marriage-equality train for some time, this week's events that have seen the NRL, Cricket Australia and the ARU climb on board were sparked by a simple but heartfelt letter from Ian Roberts to NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg.
AOC chief executive Matt Carroll says his organisation won't be backing marriage equality because he does not want to anger religious groups, although this column has been told there are rumblings at board level because they were not consulted.
The Australian Paralympic Committee did have the full support of its board when it declared that marriage equality was part of the DNA of its organisation.
Right on cue, many are angrily questioning what all this has to do with sport. It has everything to do with sport because sport is about people. Major sporting codes and those who play them have a louder voice than almost anyone else.
The ARU is not angry about Folau's tweet, although dismayed at its timing given they just backed same-sex marriage.
Three years ago, Pocock was slapped down for chaining himself to mining equipment alongside other protesters at the controversial Maules Creek coal mine in north-west NSW.
"While we appreciate David has personal views on a range of matters, we've made it clear we expect his priority to be ensuring he can fulfil his role as a high-performance athlete," the ARU said at the time.
The ARU own their players as footballers. They don't own their souls.
Anyway ... It's all been very interesting.
* Andrew Webster is chief sports writer for the Sydney Morning Herald.
- Sydney Morning Herald