Rugby league great and groundbreaking gay sportsman Ian Roberts has spoken out over the Israel Folau controversy, sending an emotional message to the Wallabies and Waratahs fullback over his social media posts.
- Ian Roberts was the first elite rugby league player to come out as gay
- Addressing Israel Folau’s anti-gay social media posts, Roberts said: “There are literally [gay] kids in the suburbs killing themselves”
- Folau’s representative playing future is being decided at a hearing with Rugby Australia in Sydney, which will continue on Tuesday
With the code of conduct appeal hearing that will determine his fate now extended to a third day, which will take place on Tuesday this week, Folau’s rugby union future remains up in the air.
As the matter was being debated in Sydney, Roberts said on Channel Nine he felt some sympathy for Folau.
“I kind of … I do feel sorry for Israel [Folau],” Roberts said.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
“But there are consequences to your actions, and reactions.
“I don’t say this lightly what I’m about to say — the language I use is hard and it’s for a point, it’s to get that message across.
“There are literally [gay] kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
“I say that with the greatest sense of respect, and I’m not implying that Israel’s responsible solely for that, please don’t take it that way.
“But it’s these types of comments and these off-the-cuff remarks, when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs, who are dealing with their sexuality.
“[They’re] confused, not knowing how to deal with it, these type of remarks … can and do push [kids and] people over the edge.”
Roberts played a total of 194 NRL games for South Sydney, Manly and the North Queensland Cowboys, plus 13 games for the Wigan Warriors in England.
The forward also played nine State of Origin games for New South Wales, and 13 Tests for Australia.
He came out as gay in 1995, becoming the first elite rugby league player in the world to do so, before retiring in 1998.
Folau, who has played 73 Tests for the Wallabies, fronted a three-person tribunal on Saturday and Sunday comprising chair John West, RA representative Kate Eastman and the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA)-appointed John Boultbee.
Le magazine l’equipe tweet: Le sport face a l’homophobie en une et tout au coeur d’un numero special du magazine L’Equipe ce samedi
The 30-year-old was stood down by RA last month in the wake of his Instagram posts proclaiming hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”.
He was then issued with a code of conduct breach notice recommending his four-year contract worth a $4 million be terminated, which he decided to challenge.
RA signalled its intention to tear up Folau’s contract — he appealed the decision, and the hearing has been running this weekend.
Folau and others gave evidence on Saturday. No decision is expected today, with the panel expected to adjourn and consider its ruling on the landmark case.
As debate continued around Folau’s future, French sporting magazine L’Equipe has released a special edition, which features two male water polo players kissing on its cover.
The issue focuses on homophobia in sport and under the large image has a prominent title saying: “Kiss whomever you like”.