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What we missed in Rugby Australia’s homophobia scandal

Today, Israel Folau’s views on the LGBTI community are shockingly clear — according to the controversial rugby star, “hell awaits” them and other “sinners”.

But just a few short years ago, he was singing a very different tune.

In August 2014, the Evangelical Christian and former Mormon was a poster boy for the Bingham Cup, an event known as “the gay rugby World Cup” that was held in Sydney that year.

As part of his apparent support for the inclusive event, he graced the cover of the Star Observer — Australia’s longest-running publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities — alongside fellow rugby star Adam Ashley-Cooper.

But after he made his now-infamous Instagram post a week ago, calling on “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” to “repent” or risk eternity in hell, social media users have started to question what prompted the 30-year-old’s stunning turnaround.

According to Aussie public relations expert Nicole Reaney, the damage Folau’s post has inflicted on his own career, as well as on Rugby Australia, has been immense.

She said the situation had snowballed as this was not Folau’s first offensive post — in 2017, he voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage after the Wallabies supported the Yes campaign, and last year he published a similar Instagram post claiming God’s plan for gay people was “HELL”.

“It’s very serious — as a nation we have evolved, and now we educate our children, our society and our workplaces to be more inclusive, and that’s a view shared by the majority of the public,” Ms Reaney said.

“Folau’s statement has been detrimental to his public image, and it is hurtful, offensive and misaligned to the values of the majority of his teammates, Rugby Australia and affiliated sponsors as well as fans and the general public.

“His latest attempt to voice his views knowing they are at odds with Rugby Australia has damaged his personal brand, and now he presents as a risk to the organisation.”

Ms Reaney said Rugby Australia would be feeling the pressure from sponsors and fans to take appropriate action against him and said his relationship with his teammates was on “tenterhooks”.

“The only way he could recover would be if he acknowledges his comments have been hurtful and misaligned with the organisation he is contracted to,” she said.

“He’s entitled to his own beliefs, but as a public figure his words and actions are projected onto the world stage, so there’s no way he could continue to belong to a brand if there is a conflict.”

She said Folau’s appearance on the Star Observer cover might damage his reputation further.

“Being on that cover demonstrates he was either not being authentic about his views at the time, or that his faith has shifted, but regardless, it shows that he is a risky investment in the minds of future sponsors or employers,” she said.

She said the case was unique as most public scandals resulted in an apology, while Folau remained unrepentant.

“Normally, when we see a scandal involving someone in the public eye they take a step back, apologise or make some sort of attempt to repair the damage that’s been caused, but the fact he’s fighting (the breach notice Rugby Australia issued him with) shows he has not recognised any fallout or the impact he has had,” she said.

 

For the full article head to News.com.au

Nicole Reaney, Director of InsideOut PR and founder of influencer agency, #AsSeenOn . Nicole has extensive experience in corporate and consumer PR and Communications as is available to comment on topics.

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