Division within society has always been a part of human nature.
Sport has always prided itself on providing a platform for inclusion regardless of cultural and social differences.
This inclusive platform has been brought into disrepute of late, as Israel Folau’s social media post condemning homosexuals among others divided not only the rugby community but wider society.
This post has led to Folau being found guilty of committing a high-level breach of the players’ code of conduct, and the 30-year-old’s career has been thrown into tatters.
In a statement, Rugby Australian said: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport”.
This has been attacked by media and political figures including Alan Jones and Mark Latham, who have savaged RA and its treatment of Folau.
Alan Jones – who coached the Wallabies in the 1980s – has gone as far as questioning the morals of the ARU, stating: “How odd that Rugby Australia preaches diversity and inclusiveness, when what they really mean is uniformity and exclusion”.
Right-wing political commentator Andrew Bolt also questioned the bullying culture of Australian society in its condemnation of Folau.
The Wallabies superstar insists his faith comes first, and reportedly rejected a $1 million peace offering from Rugby Australia to walk away before the three-man panel handed down a high-level breach notice on Tuesday.
Less than 24 hours later, Asics dropped the dual international as an ambassador, distancing themselves from the divisive post.
Anthony Mundine is not a stranger to controversy, and has questioned whether the furore around Folau is because of his skin colour rather than the post itself.
“People are missing the point here, it’s not about the Bible or the Biblical quote that Izzy put up, it’s a black man expressing it,” Mundine said.
The power of social media within modern society is obvious, and Israel Folau’s 355,000 Instagram followers illustrate the influential impact Folau is able to have on the wider community.
This influence comes with a greater responsibility to be conscious of the heightened power you have from being a public figure within society.
Folau has completely disregarded this fact by uploading the divisive social post on his Instagram page.
The freedom-of-speech argument used by Folau’s supporters is weak.
Freedom of speech does not mean individuals are able to say and do as they please.
Folau needed to be less ignorant to the scrutiny he was going to receive from such a message, as he had been warned previously for similar divisive posts.
Social media leaves the poster open to public scrutiny and Folau needs to be able to accept criticism if he wants to utilise his privileged position to preach his religious beliefs.
The condemnation that has followed Folau’s social media post has nothing to do with his own individual religious beliefs but rather the unnecessary division that a post such as this can cause.
When brought into the public domain, convictions are open to critique – and Folau must now face the criticism and consequences of his own actions now that he has brought his own private beliefs into the public space.