The game will be poorer without the talents of Israel Folau, but the entire saga is a lesson in the importance of open dialogue and tolerance over sensitive subjects, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Growing up, my father told us there were four topics of discussion that you have to avoid around a braai.
Politics, race relations and religion were three of those topics. The other issue was who was going to get the biggest Upington lamb chop. It was his chop, of course.
This left us with sport, rugby in particular, but inevitably this would also lead to conversations about politics, race and – as in the case of Folau’s tweets – religion.
Besides people attempting to predict how Game of Thrones will end, politics, race and religion are among the most polarising of topics. They can divide families and the closest of friends.
Folau’s posts about drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves and atheists (did I miss anyone?) facing eternal damnation have split the rugby world apart. On Friday he lost his job as a result of this, after Rugby Australia decided to terminate his contract when he was found guilty of a high-level breach of the players’ code of conduct.
It should be a sad day for rugby lovers, because ‘Izzy’, despite his views, is one of the game’s finest players, and it’s likely that we’ll never see him featuring in rugby union again.
The 30-year-old is probably the best player under the high ball on the planet, while his pace, power and ability to step past defenders made him one of Vodacom Super Rugby’s biggest draw cards. The game will be poorer without his talents.
But could this whole fiasco have been avoided?
Folau believes what he believes. Others have the same beliefs. But there are a lot of people who disagree with the fullback. I know I do.
Surely Rugby Australia and Folau could have handled the situation a lot better than how it played out. But it was again a case of neither party wanting to budge to find the best solution. They put their feet together and both parties kept their finger on the trigger.
Maybe it’s time we actually talk more about these sorts of topics around the braai and at the office. We can’t just choose to ignore them because it makes us feel uncomfortable, or that we may be afraid to offend people. We actually have to spend more time discussing these things to get a better understanding of one another’s beliefs and views.
There are many platforms for debate out there, but there seems to be more judges than actual people wanting to understand and listen to each other. Folau was a judge, and Rugby Australia was judge and jury. And, in the end, rugby walked the plank.
In the South African context, many people are still slating the issue of transformation because they don’t understand it. After more than 20 years of unity in the sport, people still are unable to except each other’s views or work together to make the sport more inclusive for every young South African kid – black and white – to take up our beloved game.
Some topics will cause division and some will polarise people. But the more dialogue we can create, the bigger the chance that we will gain more insight and eventually become a lot more tolerant of each other and our views.
Folau and Rugby Australia weren’t able to do that. And it’s incredibly disappointing. In the end, rugby in that country will be the biggest casualty.