Anti-Gay Aussie Athlete Israel Folau Loses Asics Sponsorship

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 8, 2019

After anti-LGBTQ rugby star Israel Folau stirred controversy with a string of homophobic posts last yet, he seemingly skipped away from the ruckus with no damage done to his career — aside, that is, from losing his use of a Land Rover luxury vehicle.

But after still more anti-gay posts, including one last month in which Folau shared a quote from the New Testament Epistle to the Galatians (King James Version) about gays going to Hell along with "liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists," and more, Rugby Australia finally had enough and said it was canceling the star athlete's four-year, $4 million contract.

That announced action led to Folau requesting a hearing, the result of which was a finding, announced May 6, that Folau's repeated slams against LGBTQ people amounted to a "high breach of contract," as recently reported here at EDGE.

The three-member tribunal that reached that conclusion has yet to announced what sanctions will befall Folau, but sponsor Asics didn't wait for more news. The sportswear company yanked Folau's brand ambassador status, reported British newspaper The Guardian.

"We believe sport is for everyone," a statement from Asics said, "and we champion inclusivity and diversity."

The statement went on to affirm Folau's right to his own personal beliefs as a Christian, but also defended the company's right to stand up for its own values.

"While Israel Folau is entitled to his personal views, some of those expressed in recent social media posts are not aligned with those of Asics," the statement said. "As such, our partnership with Israel has become untenable and he will no longer represent Asics as a brand ambassador."

CNN reported that though he had asked for the hearing, Folau showed no remorse once the tribunal found against him. Rather, the athlete claimed to be "at peace," CNN said.

As last year's controversy gathered momentum, Folau took to social media before a scheduled meeting with team and sport bosses about his anti-gay posts and seemed to suggest that he was being persecuted for his faith. Folau texted out a biblical quotation from the Book of Matthew (King James Version) that read, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."

More recently, after Rugby Australia announced it would be canceling Folau's contract, the rugby player delivered an Easter sermon that included a tearful claim that his woes boil down to him being required not to follow his faith.

"In your workforce, if they're telling you something that will compromise your faith, this is a test of faith in which you're going to be put in a challenge, and the question is 'What are you going to do?' " Folau told the congregation, according to a Fox Sports article.

Unsurprisingly, conservative politicians and news outlets have inserted themselves into the fray, framing the issue exclusively in terms of persecution. Right-wing Australian politician Cory Bernardi opined on the tribune's finding, saying, "I find it extraordinary that quoting from the bestselling book in the history of the world is a breach of contract."

Meantime, Fox Sports reported on pro boxer Anthony Mundine's contending that race was the motivating factor behind the tribunal's finding. Mundine told the media that "it's not about the Bible or the Biblical quote that Izzy put up, it's a black man expressing it."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.