‘Over the edge’: Why Folau’s post went too far
GAY referee Nigel Owens has penned a highly personal column criticising Israel Folau, saying the Wallabies superstar's infamous "HELL" Instagram post had the potential to tip a young person struggling with their sexuality "over the edge."
Welshman Owens is one of rugby's most respected figures who controlled the 2015 World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia.
He came out as gay in 2007 and has become a leading voice for inclusion in sport.
Writing for WalesOnline, Owens shared his experience of counselling a suicidal young rugby player who was afraid of coming out to his family and friends.
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Owens praised rugby's sense of community in dealing with such issues but said Folau's comments - in which he said gay people would go to hell unless they repent - were a major setback.
"Comments like Israel Folau's about gay people and all other types of bullying by all kinds of people is what can put people like that young boy in that moment where it's enough to tip them over the edge, because there is a minority out there who give the impression that you cannot be who you truly are," Owens wrote.
Owens said he respected Folau's right to oppose same sex marriage but argued that saying gay people were destined for hell was "something totally different."
READ MORE: Folau posts 'the persecuted are righteous'
"Yes, you are entitled to your opinion but one should understand what that opinion can do to young and vulnerable people's lives in particular ones in a bad place dealing with their sexuality," Owens wrote.
"When you say first of all that you respect everybody and their different views and opinions, then you can't mean that if you are saying gay people should go to hell because of who they are.
"All that should matter is that if you are a decent human being then you should be respected and treated the same as everybody else and you should treat and respect everybody else the same as well too."
Folau has been asked to meet with Rugby Australia and Waratahs bosses this week to discuss his use of social media.