Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle admits dealing with Israel Folau and his extreme religious beliefs is a huge conundrum for which she doesn’t have an immediate answer to.
“In my career, this is singularly the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” Castle told Fox Sports’ Kick and Chase program on Wednesday night.
Australia’s highest-profile player Folau has again courted controversy after posting a link on social media to a video that warns against “tolerance” of same-sex marriage.
The tweeted video features an 11-minute sermon by late American evangelist David Wilkerson who warns of “sexual perversions beyond description” and is the latest in a series of provocative anti-gay posts from the Wallabies superstar over the past five weeks.
RA has opted not to sanction Folau amid ongoing backlash from sections of fans and fellow players, including All Blacks, and expression of concerns from major sponsors Qantas and Asics.
Castle conceded Folau was “walking the line” and disrespecting teammates by putting them in a position of constantly having to answer questions about his beliefs.
She spoke to the dual international again on Wednesday but said the matter was unusually sensitive.
“There’s no black and white answer,” said Castle, also a former Netball New Zealand and Canterbury NRL chief executive.
“On the one hand you’re dealing with a human rights issue. 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’s done in a respectful way, so that’s the measure that we’ll continue to apply.”
While many have been quick to castigate Folau for his outspoken views, Castle said it was a juggling act trying to appease all fans and admitted Rugby Australia risked losing sections of supporters either way.
“It’s a really delicate issue and I really wish I could sit here and say this is black and white and by sanctioning him will fix it and by going down this path will punish him as well,” she said.
“But it’s really not that simple because of the freedom of speech element.
“It’s a very hot topic in the Australian landscape at the moment. The freedom of speech movement is looking for a conversation to be had and that’s why – and I keep repeating myself – it’s very delicate and we’re trying to manage both sides so everyone feels included.”
Folau is off contract at the end of 2018 but Castle stressed that while “a lot of people have made it about that”, the governing body was not motivated by trying to keep the peace with the three-times John Eales Medallist to ensure he remains in Australian rugby.
“We’ve worked really hard during this process to make sure we separated that conversation and actually made sure we made it about the issue at hand and made it about the inclusion piece and respectful piece,” she said.
“And that’s the dialogue and the focus that we’ve continued to have and we haven’t entered into the re-negotiations or contract extension conversations.”