A window of hope for Rugby Australia

sasha-freemind-780719-unsplashDear Rugby Australia

I see a window of hope for our great game. It will take some humble pie. A decision or two will need to be reversed. But you have an opportunity to make rugby great again.

I love rugby. I love the Wallabies. I’ve held the Bledisloe Cup in my hands. I love the Brumbies. I’ve drunk from the 2004 Super 12 trophy. I love local rugby, standing in the driving rain, the sleet, the mud, and the heat, watching my boys compete with all their hearts. I’ve cheered Aussie rugby from my lounge room, the stands, the sidelines, the change room, in Australia and overseas. I’ve supported rugby and rugby has been my reward.

That is why, Rugby Australia, you are breaking my heart. I listen to so many who say they’ve had enough. They don’t care anymore. The politics, the ignorance, the mismanagement, the bullying, the elitism—they’ve had enough. And what can I say? They’ve got a point. But I won’t give up. In fact, I see a window of hope.

71edf81b5810a66b4f3c696b83f0c5a8Rugby Australia, you have made a mess of things, but there is still hope. You just need to own up to a few things. It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants to play rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window. Don’t miss it. Offer an olive branch now. Do it now before rugby league gets the jump. Do it now before he signs overseas. Do it now before our best player misses the World Cup. Do it now because you can and it is the right thing to do.

Be honest. You have made things far worse than they needed to be. You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose. They knew Izzy. They knew what he believes. It’s never been a secret. And they chose to follow him anyway. What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.

Rugby Australia, you didn’t handle things well. For years you’ve been saying we need to respect our players. All of them. Together with the Rugby Union Players Association, you have provided chaplains, cultural liaison workers, welfare workers and more. Orientation camps for players have included important pieces on the cultural, family, and religious convictions of our Pacific Islanders especially. Now you heavy-handedly ignore them. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to consult with cultural and religious experts, to seek to gain insight and understanding, to work toward future agreement, to learn from the misunderstanding to create a better outcome for all? But you rushed in like a bully in a china shop.

When Andy Friend was the coach of the Brumbies, he once surveyed all his players to discover the most influential people in their lives. A significant number of the players put Jesus Christ, or the Lord, or God as number one. I suspect this result would have been repeated in many of the teams across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Most of the players who gave these responses were Polynesian. So, what did Andy do? He saw an opportunity to respect his players and further their development. He asked the chaplain to work with him to understand his players better, and to determine how he could support them in their beliefs. He explored how to enable players to live out their beliefs when at home and when on tour. We could do with a lot more of this kind of emotional intelligence among the leaders in our game.

Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and other church school teams? If you are going to lead rugby into the future in Australia, then you need to get back in touch, and there is still time. Please, do it now.

You have painted Izzy into a corner. You demanded that he take down a post. That seems reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes. Why would he be open to having all future posts vetted, but not take down an existing one? Have you thought about that? Have you asked him? Could it be that he sees you asking him to deny his beliefs? Please, lighten up a bit. The nature of social media posts is they are quickly buried and forgotten.

Look to the future, not to the past. Take the opportunity to forge a new future for religious and cultural liaison in rugby. Lead well. Show some grace. Be the sport that unites rather than divides.

Rugby Australia, I plead with you. Do the right thing. Give Israel Folau another chance. Take this window of opportunity to reconnect with Israel and work together for the future of our sport. I, for one, will respect you deeply if you do.

Dave McDonald

National Director, FIEC
Salt Community Church Pastor, Bonny Hills, NSW
Brumbies Chaplain 2003-2017

26 thoughts on “A window of hope for Rugby Australia”

  1. Dear David, Sadly I am not sure you will publish this comment because far too often it seems that the best way to handle a different point of view is to censor it.
    I have lived in Australia for 31-years and for most of that time I have attended church as a born again christian. However more recently I am no longer regularly attending church because of the intolerance of many church leaders towards the LBGTIQ community. The transparency of the stock line from many “Love the Sinner, hate the sin” just doesn’t ring true. It screams of hypocrisy and insincerity and it is offensive to anyone who has friends or family who belong to the LBGTIQ community.
    Leading up to the marriage equality debate and postal survey it was almost impossible to avoid being offended. For me, my first standout situation was when I was getting a lift home from a Christian Men’s evening and one of the senior Pastors from the church caught a lift with us. For some reason he started talking about Marriage Equality and kindly offered that in his view, “Marriage Equality was the start of a slippery slope and the then next thing we would know, people would be campaigning to marry animals”. Personally I was offended beyond belief.
    Well the Pastor was right this was the thin end of the wedge because the attacks on the LBGTIQ community have continued to grow and become more and more offensive despite even though Australians voted for marriage equality.
    So when Israel Folau made his initial anti gay tweet when he was negotiating his contract with Rugby Australia it was if he just wanted to pick a fight with his potential new employer. He gave then the ideal warning and opportunity to take action to minimise the damage he may do in the future to their reputation and their commitment to equality in the sport. And duly Israel agreed to Rugby Australia’s requests and he accepted their contract so he could earn $1million dollars a year.
    A year later Israel with total disregard for his agreement he fires off another offensive Tweet. Now, if his contract had been a sponsorship with Pepsi where he agreed not to promote Coke it would be clear to all participating in a Coke ad contravened the agreement. It is clear that Israel is thumbing his nose at Rugby Australia and he hasn’t held up his end of the bargain (for which hes was being paid $1million a year).
    Now come on, I cannot believe that you would think it is OK to give your word and then break it without consequence?
    Israel was give opportunity back down but he just stood his ground and left the Management at Rugby Australia with absolutely no choice but to take action.
    There is no way Rugby Australia can change the situation unless Folau were to make the first step to reconciliation. But even then I think he has angered so many people at all levels it will be very difficult because he has betrayed his fellow team members and he has betrayed the support and coaching staff. In fact I would say it will be harder for Israel to make amends than it would be for the assistant Pastor at the Church I use to go to.
    Churches are faced with a difficult challenge at the moment. And it is one you would think that they would understand. 50 years ago when divorce law changed, divorced people were only tolerated. 50-years on and being divorced is of little consequence. But while it was it drove people away from the church. I have been driven away from the church because of marriage equality and the foul and untrue lies that were told about associated risks. In another 50-years society will have moved forward to a new level of understanding. But how many more people will have to be driven out of the church before their eyes and hearts are opened?

    1. So very sad that Israel Folau was pressured to reject Rugby Australia’s peace initiative by his father. Israel Folau was set to accept a deal with Rugby Australia that would have saved his job until his father intervened to stop him, according to a report out today.

      Eni Folau, a Christian pastor, told his superstar son he would “go to hell” if he agreed to RA’s peace deal terms, which included deleting his controversial Instagram post, The Sunday Telegraph reports.


    2. While you make some good points about the attitude of Christians and church leadership you have also overstated the situation. Folau may have acted differently to his advantage if he had thought more about where is words would end up but he is entitled to his views as you are. His position is the same for gay people as it is for drunkards, liars and all the rest of us. I am included in his coverage but I am not offended – warned, yes, but not offended.

      Your offence at the “slippery slope” argument is misplaced. The same people who first backed same sex marriage are now seeking polygamy and other deviations from marriage between a man and a woman. As for the church “moving on”, yes sadly many churches will but the truth of the Word of God stands and as Folau said we need to be warned of the consequences.

      Australian rugby is the poorer for taking the line it did. When they turn a blind eye to some players’nefarious activities but ping a player for a tweet you know that there is more to his banishing than the response to the tweet.

    3. Hi ViewDownUnder
      I would be very surprised if David Mc would censor views – As you have noted this has been a very painful discussion – on both sides, Stupid, painful things have beens said on every side – and clumsy statements that really hurt as well – plenty of room to learn to forgive and love, even as Jesus says – of the “enemy”>
      Just some small points of detail and thats all they are.
      Despite Rugby officials saying I FAlou had broken a clear agreement – in the last few weeks they agreed that there was in fact NO agreement in his contract or even verbally – or at least clearly. The Players Association have issued a statement a few weeks ago that they were very unclear about what they could or should do or not do. This was ver embarrassing for the PR people of Rugby Aust as they kept telling the rest of us that it was clear – a significant group of the other players said – Well its not clear to us – to put it bluntly – I feel that the evidence is now pretty clear that Rugby spokesmen and women are the ones who fibbed.
      And as someone who was divorced by my ex-wife – ai Can assure you that church that still take the Bible and Jesus words seriously – have not just accepted the change. It still taken very seriously.
      The people of Jesus are always trying to stay in step with Jesus as He is revealed so clearly and beautifully and yet radically – though that always puts us out of step with the rulers of cultures – Blessings – ian p

      1. Ian, your are right that the situation is a mess and there is a lot of misinformation out there. But regardless of that misinformation there was an independent tribunal that made the decision that Rugby Australia were within their rights to terminate Mr Folau’s contract. So Mr Folau has the right to contest that decision in a court of law, but Australia has no Bill of Right or equivalent, and there are no religious freedom laws for him to rely on. So I am not sure he will get the outcome he desires.
        As for Religious Freedom we would all be better off if there was a Bill of Right that define the balancing act between all such thing rather than sticking a 5th leg on the monkey.

      2. Downunder, you are right we have no bill for religious freedoms, but we do have a Human Rights council and are signed on to the International Human rights, which provides freedom of religion.

  2. Thanks Dave, good to read.

    Did you send it to Rugby Australia? If so did you get a response?



      1. I wrote to them on 22/5/19 and got a reply on 3/6/19, which was basically just outlining the history of the situation and then repeating everything they’ve already said to the media in defence of their actions…

  3. Amen. I agree. Very well-written! I hope they see the sense in what you’re saying and get him back in.

  4. I feel a great deal of sympathy for Israel Folau. He was been subject to childhood and ongoing religious instruction which limits his ability to honestly assess alternate ways of thinking. According to media reports his father warned him the he would go to hell if he deleted his homophobic Instragram post. It is not difficult to explain his actions given that level of perceived threat.

    Perhaps your readers should pause and consider the thinking Folau who believes that God broke his ankle to teach him not to get drunk on weekends and have one-night stands! Does he also think the same omnipotent God is subjecting children to bone cancer to teach them lessons? Is it for their sin’s they are being inflicted with horrific pain?

    Your letter contains unsupported allegations of unethical behavior against Rugby officialdom. Why not subject your own scriptures and beliefs to the same critique? Just do a Google search for Old Testament atrocities and you will see Yahweh commanding heinous acts of genocide and child slavery. And Folau would have us atheists repent and spend eternity with his God!….if you can’t see the madness in the invitation then there really is no hope.

    Rugby really it’s the game played in heaven…..that’s just made up….just like Folau’s threats of eternal damnation. The game of Rugby isn’t about the dichotomy of winners and losers. Just as life is not about your belief in heaven and hell its ultimately not about the winning its about how you play the game.

    1. Grant, this post is not about the rights or wrongs of Izzy’s message. It’s about the failure of RA to creatively work for some better outcomes. I’m calling them to have another go. I believe I would do the same if his post were based on the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita.

      1. macarisms According to some press reports Rugby Australia DID try to work creatively for some better outcomes. Only problem was that when Izzy was about to remove his tweet his father reportedly told him that he would go to hell if he did remove it!!!
        I have to say that I found that to be very disturbing. To think that Israel’s father was attempting to influence his behaviour by making such comments smacks of abuse. It made me wonder what influence Izzy’s father had when the post was first put up? Especially as Izzy had avoided putting up such tweets for twelve months.
        If your son came home one day and told you his best friend was gay, would you insist that he tell the friend and all his mates that he was going to hell? I hope not.

      2. Viewdownunder, I agree that it’s concerning what his father apparently said to him (because I don’t agree with what his dad said), but I think it’s overstating things to call it abuse. I’ve see IF preach at his church on a video clip, and I’m pretty sure he’s his own man, and has his own convictions. The daily tele is known for sensationalising things. Who know’s what IF was thinking after his dad spoke to him. He might have been thinking, ‘thanks, that makes sense with what I believe’. We just don’t know. We can speculate either way. It’s fine for you to wonder what influence his father had in his original post, as long as you realise that it’s just speculation, and not really based on much evidence.

        I actually thought IF’s original post was a bit clumsy BTW, and not worded in the most helpful way. The Bible is clear that All have fallen short and deserve hell, and All need God’s forgiveness, which he freely offers. So it is unfortunate when Christians come across in a self-righteous way, which I think is how many people perceived IF’s tweet.

        I don’t think I would tell my son to tell his gay friend that he’s going to hell. But at the same time, there are lots of things society embraces as good and right, which are not, I don’t think. And so I think there should be a place to warn people about God’s coming judgement – not in a self-righteous way, but out of love, in the hope that they will also embrace God’s free forgiveness. It’s not about trying to get people who are not Christians, to live as if they are. It’s about telling people where they can find living water that truly quenches the thirst.

        The passage IF was interpreting talks specifically about homosexual practises and not simply sexual orientation. Two really helpful articles that make a good case for distinguishing between having same-sex desires, and acting on those desires, can be found here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/is-it-sin-to-experience-same-sex-attraction; and here: https://www.livingout.org/why-are-some-people-same-sex-attracted-

        People can’t really help it if they have same-sex desires, but we are responsible for giving ourselves over to those desires and acting on them. In any case, I do think it’s possible to really love and embrace people even if you don’t approve of their behaviour. Parents do this with their kids all the time. Even warning their kids about consequences for their behaviour doesn’t nullify their love for them. I know Christians don’t always do this very well, though. So I can understand where you are coming from.

      3. The content of Folau’s message, along with the repetitive nature of his offences, constitutes the high-level breach of the Rugby Australia code and is the reason for his dismissal. Your pleas for ‘creativity’ in the Rugby Australia approach need to address the substance of the matter.

        Rugby Australia did work for a better outcome. They used an independent panel of three silks who “sat for 22 hours and heard testimony from several witnesses and reviewed over 1000 pages of evidence, determined that Israel’s conduct constituted a high-level breach of the Code of Conduct and ordered termination of his playing contract.”(Source: http://www.nswwaratahs.com.au). Why should Rugby Australia “have another go” when his offensive post is still publicly available? Furthermore, Folau has snubbed the appeals process and is taking legal action.

        Folau represents the view of a shrinking number of biblical literalists who are completely out of step with the bulk of scholarly and community attitudes to the LGBTQ community. Looking through Folau’s Instagram he wears his unpopular opinions as a badge of honour and considers this marks him as one of the chosen few who will enter via the narrow gate. He is entitled to his views on the afterlife but not when there public expression does harm.

        Your letter does address the “rights” and “wrongs” of Folau’s post when you clarify both its meaning and motivation: “It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.” Folau may seem loving based on his fundamentalist Christian worldview but from a community perspective it’s judgmental, divisive and damages the lives of people in the present.

    2. Grant, it sounds like this situation has raised a few gripes you have with the Bible, etc. And that’s fair enough. But I don’t think some of them are so relevant to the point of the article. However, if you are open to it, I would love the opportunity to discuss an alternative way of thinking about these issues in a different forum. I don’t think the (loaded) Google search you suggested is very helpful for someone wanting to form an informed opinion.

      1. Simon,

        I am happy for Dave to give you my email.

        I don’t understand your comment about using Google to find a list of OT atrocities.

        Readers could read and ask there pastors about with Numbers 31;1-18, Joshua 6;21, Psalm 137:9 and Exodus 21:1-11….if you don’t like the list Google brings up.

        The relevance is that Folau’s thinking goes beyond his Instagram it is based on his interpretation of the Protestant Christian scriptures which includes the above as divine commands…..that is inconsistent with the Rugby Australia code…..indeed “Christians” less exegetically nuanced than Folau may and do seek to take matters of judgement into their own hands based on these passages and a failure to understand Folau’s motivations.

  5. Yes. rugby Australia made a mess of things, but painting Folau as innocent and only motivated by faith and love is just gloss. This is the 2nd year in a row his social media posts caused a media backlash and damage to his employer. It’s hard to argue he didn’t know.

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