Rugby icon Ian Roberts condemns Israel Folau’s anti-gay remarks

A photo of Israel Folau, the player rugby icon Ian Roberts condemned for making anti-gay remarks as harmful to LGBT+ youth.

Australian rugby legend Ian Roberts, an out gay man, condemned athlete Israel Folau’s anti-gay posts as harmful to LGBT+ youth

Speaking to Australia’s Channel Nine on Sunday (May 5), Roberts said he “kind of” felt sorry for Folau, but that the gravity of his remarks could not be overstated and the rugby player had to face consequences for his actions.

“I don’t say this lightly what I’m about to say—the language I use is hard and it’s for a point, it’s to get that message across,” Roberts said.

He continued: “There are literally [gay] kids in the suburbs killing themselves.

“I say that with the greatest sense of respect, and I’m not implying that Israel’s responsible solely for that, please don’t take it that way.

“But it’s these types of comments and these off-the-cuff remarks, when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs, who are dealing with their sexuality.

“[They’re] confused, not knowing how to deal with it, these type of remarks… can and do push [kids and] people over the edge.”

Roberts became the first elite rugby league player in the world to come out as gay in 1995, before retiring in 1998.

Ian Roberts of the Kangaroos poses for a photo during the Australian Kangaroos Rugby League photocall for the upcoming tour of Great Britain held in England.

Ian Roberts pictured in 1994, a year before he became the world’s first elite rugby player to come out as gay. (Clive Brunskill/Getty)

Folau, who is Christian, posted messages on Instagram and Twitter on Wednesday (April 10) telling “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” that “hell awaits” unless they “repent.”

The messages were published hours after Tasmania passed sweeping reforms to permit people 16 or older to change their registered gender, removing requirements for transgender people to undergo surgery in order to have their legal gender recognised.

Rugby Australia and New South Wales Rugby both declared they’d fire Folau for breaching a code of conduct forbidding players from engaging in discriminatory practices.

He was served with a breach notice by the Australian Rugby Union, which he referred to a code of conduct hearing that began on May 4 and is expected to protract into next week.

If the three-person independent panel decides against Folau, he would become the first professional athlete in Australia whose contract is terminated over the expression of anti-gay views.

If you are in Australia and are having suicidal thoughts, suffering from anxiety or depression, or just want to talk, call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. If you are in the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255. If you are in the UK, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.