The National Rugby League has thrown its support behind women’s State of Origin opponents Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki after a social media backlash from a segment of fans angry at a photo of the couple kissing at the close of this weekend’s game in Sydney.
Brown, the Queensland State of Origin captain, and New South Wales lock Foliaki have been in a relationship since they were both selected for the Australian Jillaroos representative side in 2014.
And while their relationship has attracted some publicity in the past, the image of the couple kissing in their Maroons and Blues jerseys in the aftermath of New South Wales’ 16-10 win over Queensland on Friday night sparked immediate reaction from fans after being posted on the NRL’s social media accounts.
While many fans were happy with the couple’s display of affection, others lashed out at the NRL for publishing the picture.
But the NRL was quick to support Brown and Foliaki. In response to one comment accusing the NRL of “sexualising the women’s league” the NRL Facebook account responded by noting male State of Origin stars are regularly seen embracing their partners after matches.
“If we can post a [photo] of Cooper Cronk and his wife Tara kissing, then we can share a photo of Karina Brown and Ness Foliaki sharing a moment too,” the NRL’s comment read.
Another comment suggested there would be “public outrage” if two men had kissed after a men’s State of Origin game, claiming young women would be “put off” from playing the game by the image.
The NRL replied “welcome to 2018 … can’t wait for you to join us!”
Foliaki said the women’s rugby league community had been supportive of the couple’s relationship.
“I think it’s more accepted now and the Jillaroos make it feel like home. The coaching staff are supportive. We’re feeling all the love,” Foliaki told NRL.com.
The photo follows the NRL receiving a Pride in Sport award this week for its support of the LGBTI community.
The award recognised the NRL, which had a float in this year’s 2018 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and was the first Australian sporting code to join Pride in Diversity in 2014, as the highest-ranking sporting organisation on the Pride in Sport Index.
What a GREAT PIC!! Love is Love…even if it is to a Queenslander!!!…😁….just joking! It is an awesome picture! ❤💙
— Garry Patten (@GarryPatten1) June 22, 2018
The NRL made headlines in October last year when US rapper Macklemore performed the pro-same-sex marriage anthem Same Love at the league’s grand final in Sydney, while Australian Test star Ian Roberts was one of the first Australian athletes to come out as gay while still playing first grade rugby league in the 1990s.
Roberts remains the only male professional rugby league player to have come out as gay during his playing career.