"Like it or not, you're a role model for kids": Tim Horan's message to Israel Folau

by Iain Payten

UPDATED: Wallabies legend Tim Horan says he hopes Israel Folau is made aware of the impact of his social media comments after another controversial Instagram post this week.

The post, which was accompanied by religious messages and verses of scripture, was labelled as a “warning” and said “hell awaits” a group including “homosexuals”, “drunks”, “adulterers”, “liars”, “fornicators”, “thieves”, “atheists" and “idolators”.

Folau had earlier posted a critical tweet linking to a news bulletin about Tasmania becoming first state or territory in Australia to make the inclusion of gender optional on birth certificates.

Speaking on FOX SPORTS News, Horan said he hoped that those around the superstar made it clear to him who was being affected by his comments.

"I hope he is," he said.

"He's our most marketable person in the game of rugby union, he's scored the most SR tries, last weekend, 60 tries for the Waratahs, he's an unbelievable player and a great bloke.

"I just hope who's advising Israel Folau and teammates around him make him aware of who he's offending and why.

"Most professional sportsmen and women, whether you like it or not, you're a role model for kids playing the sport or just kids in general, for stakeholders, for sponsors, people look up to them and believe in what you talk about.

"In a World Cup year it is damaging and especially for team morale. We talk about in sport and business, that culture is probably one of the most important products of a team, so it's certainly going to be challenging but it's not leaving Rugby Australia many options in the next two days."

Folau's comments have generated worldwide reaction overnight with figures including former England prop Joe Marler and Matildas footballer Sam Kerr weighing in on the issue.

EARLIER: The Rugby Australia integrity unit is looking into the conduct of Israel Folau after the Wallabies and Waratahs star posted "unacceptable" anti-gay views on social media.

Almost a year after similar comments by Folau on Instagram caused a firestorm of controversy for Rugby Australia, and prompted a backlash from the public and sponsors, Folau posted another inflammatory picture on Instagram.

Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________

A post shared by Israel Folau (@izzyfolau) on

The social media posts come only two months after Rugby Australia announced it had signed Folau on a new four-year contract, and swiftly drew condemnation online and re-ignited debate about the Wallabies fullback’s future in the game.

Where Rugby Australia trod a delicate line around Folau's freedom of expression in 2018, the governing body issued a far stronger statement late on Wednesday night.

"Rugby Australia is aware of a post made by Israel Folau on his Instagram account this afternoon," the Rugby Australia statement read.

"The content within the post is unacceptable. It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the Rugby community.

"The Rugby Australia integrity unit has been engaged on the matter tonight."

NSW Rugby issued a statement on Thursday morning saying it had been in discussions with Rugby Australia and backed the sentiment of the national body.

The involvement of the Rugby AU integrity unit indicates Folau could face sanctions for his latest post.

Conditions on Folau’s use of social media were reportedly part of his contract negotiations last year.

The word "disrespectful" also appears to be significant, given Rugby AU boss Raelene Castle said last year that Folau was entitled to share his religious views but within limits.

“There’s no doubt we’ve had conversations with Izzy about continuing to present his views in a respectful way. He is walking the line, we’ll continue the dialogue with him,” Castle told Fox Sports' Kick & Chase program in May, 2018.

"On one hand you’re dealing with a human rights issue and on the other hand you’re dealing with freedom of speech and someone’s right to express their views, whether it be religious or otherwise. I think the test continues to be whether that is done in a respectful way. That’s the measure we’ll continue to apply.”

Castle said last year that dealing with Folau’s controversial social media use last year was the "single most difficult" issue she has had to deal with in her time as a sports administrator. 

Israel Folau. Photo: Getty ImagesFolau wrote in a first-person column that he had offered to walk away from rugby if the situation became untenable due to his religious beliefs.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika also indicated last year he’d had assurances from Folau that he would no longer post controversial views on social media after understanding the impact on his teammates.

Cheika said he was "confident it is not going to be an ongoing issue”.

Raelene Castle spoke to media after SANZAAR's announcement. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Marty CambridgeIn interviews last year, Folau denied he was homophobic and said he had learned a lot through the controversy.

"It’s a bit of a roller-coaster year, for me, more so off the field with what’s been happening but, to be quite honest, it might sound a bit crazy, but I kind of really enjoyed what was happening off the field," Folau told reporters.

"Not that it happened on purpose, but my identity is based around my faith in God. And I truly believe that from deep down inside, what was happening off the field, even though it was challenging and it was hard, it was actually moulding me into the person [I am] ... and taught me a lot of things that I needed to learn, and I’m still learning now."