Rugby star Israel Folau ‘stands firm’ over anti-LGBT beliefs

Australian rugby player Israel Folau has said he “stands firm” over his beliefs after saying gay people are destined for hell on his personal Instagram account.

Folau, who plays for the Australian national rugby union team the Wallabies, said he will not back down despite the backlash he has received over his comment.

The 29-year-old fullback sparked public outrage in April after writing gay people would go to “hell” unless “they repent their sins and turn to God.”

Speaking to the Australian Associated Press on Thursday, Folau said he stood by his beliefs and was committed to rugby.

“I stand firm in what I believe in and that’s something personal with who I am,” he said.

Israel Folau of the Waratahs is tackled by Melani Nanai of the Blues during the round 17 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Waratahs at Eden Park on July 15, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Phil Walter/Getty)

“That’s something that comes truly from the bottom of my heart. That doesn’t interfere with anything to do with my rugby and the guys around me.

“As teammates, I’m still the same person and I try to bring that energy as best I can when I’m around the team and obviously going out and playing on the weekends doesn’t change who I am,” he added.

“That’s the most important thing that I’ve learned probably the last month.”

Folau was widely criticised for his comment, which was later removed from the Instagram post.

Rugby Australia distanced itself from Folau’s post and confirmed it would take no further action against the player, who is set to return on Saturday for the Waratahs in Super Rugby.

“Folau’s personal beliefs do not reflect the views of Rugby Australia,” the sport’s national governing body said in a statement last month.

“Rugby supports all forms of inclusion, whether its sexuality, race, or gender, which is set out in our Inclusion Policy.”

Australia’s Waratahs player Israel Folau dives over to score a try against the Stormers of South Africa during their Super rugby union match in Sydney on February 24, 2018. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty)

When Folau was questioned about the criticism he had received, he said he did not “take anything personally”.

“I understand everyone is entitled to their opinions and I’ve said what I’ve said in recent weeks. I leave it there.

“I’ve been fine with how everything’s rolled out the last month. My focus is obviously on getting back out there on the field, which is an exciting time for me.”

Folau has previously spoken out against same-sex marriage, writing on Twitter in September 2017: “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions but personally, I will not support gay marriage.”