The Israel Folau case is about more than “inclusion”. It is about religious belief, honesty, integrity, the corruption of sport by commerce, the corruption of commerce by personal interest, and the duty of individuals to stay true to their own moral code, even against overwhelming pressure.
Australia is still reeling from cricket’s ball-tampering scandal, where dishonesty, winning-at-all-costs and caving to peer-group pressure, were on display to the nation’s shame.
Qantas and Rugby Australia are repeating these mistakes.
Israel Folau has a legitimate right to his own views. In this case they are theological views that are held by significant numbers of not just Christians but Muslims, Jews and Hindus as well.
Australia’s legal protection for religious belief is lacking, and Folau’s case is an example of why it needs to be strengthened (see our submission to the Ruddock Panel on Religious Freedom).
But even without legal protections Rugby Australia should respect Folau’s right to freedom of religious belief. They haven’t done that, even though they’ve decided to take no action for now. The mere act of calling him in is intimidation and has no place in Australian society.
It is clear that Australians see sport as more than winning – they demand character of their sportsmen.
Many schools have rugby teams, not just for fitness, but because this sport is meant to teach life and moral skills, like teamwork, bravery, sacrifice, persistence.
An important element of teamwork is the sort of honesty that Folau has shown in answering a straight question with a straight answer. (He didn’t volunteer his views on homosexuality and the after-life, but someone on twitter asked him.)
You want your teammate to give you a straight answer, even if you are not comfortable with it. That is one of the lessons that you learn from being in a team – you don’t have to agree with everyone on everything, and often the person who does is not a team player, they’re just weak. Weak people won’t be there in the tough moment when the team really needs them.
Ironically Rugby Australia draws its strength from Pacific Islanders, many of whom are evangelical Christians, or Seventh Day Adventists; and Independent Schools, many of whom are Christian.
Yet it chooses to marginalise their values for those of one of its sponsors. So their actions are dumb, as well as unethical.
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