In Brief

Israel Folau homophobia row: New Zealand Rugby backs diversity - video

All Blacks promote Diversity is Strength campaign, as row over Australian's social media comments continues

Three weeks after Australian rugby star Israel Folau caused outrage with an Instagram post warning that gay people would go to hell, New Zealand Rugby has upped the ante with the launch of a video backing its Diversity Is Strength campaign.

The timing of the release has been hailed as "impeccable" and the perfect answer to the storm caused by the player's comments, which have gone unpunished by the sport's governing body in Australia.

The controversy began when Folau, a devout Christian, was asked on social media if God had a plan for gay people. He replied: "Hell... unless they repent of their sins and turn to God." 

The comment was later deleted but has caused a huge debate in Australia. Many have defended the player's right to his views, but others have accused Folau, who last year expressed his opposition to gay marriage, of homophobia.

In column on the Players Voice website, Folau tried to clarify his position, claiming he was simply quoting the Bible, and offered to "walk away" from the sport if Rugby Australia felt he was "hurting" the organisation.

However, Rugby Australia have not punished the player, despite distancing themselves from his comments. Chief executive Raelene Castle said: "In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game. We accept Israel's position."

Now New Zealand appear to have joined the debate, nailing their colours to the mast, in a move that could be seen as a deliberate attempt to embarrass Australian rugby.

The country does have an interest in the fall-out as Folau is married to one of New Zealand's most high-profile sportswomen, netball player Maria Tutaia Folau. Folau also has Tongan heritage, like many Pacific Islanders in New Zealand.

"NZR has been cautious in its approach to the Folau controversy, after the Wallabies star's social media statement that homosexuals would go to hell," says New Zealand website Newshub. "While it hasn't outright condemned his comments, individual players like Brad Weber and TJ Perenara have stood up against them.

"This latest promotion - featuring All Blacks and Black Ferns players, and seemingly filmed in Japan - leaves no doubt about where NZR stands on the issue."

According to the New Zealand Herald the video represents "a very public statement on... diversity and inclusiveness".

The two minute video shows the multi-coloured LGBT flag in the stands and on the strips of the players, as well as in jet trails in the sky.

The voiceover describes discrimination as "an enemy that cannot be fought alone and must be defeated together".

New Zealand Rugby has become an advocate for diversity, and last year became the first national sporting organisation to earn the Rainbow Tick for its efforts in that field.

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