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Maria Folau hasn't said a word about her husband's scandal. But she's just become part of it.

One of Australia’s most successful athletes, Israel Folau, is currently begging for money on the internet. Three million dollars, in fact.

Right there on the home page of popular fundraising website GoFundMe, among the appeals for memorial funds and cancer-stricken children, is a link to the “Israel Folau Legal Action Fund”. The 30-year-old beams out from the holding picture, and right there alongside him is another face: his wife, Maria.

The champion netball player has so far remained silent — publicly at least — as the scandal surrounding her husband and his bigoted social media post unfolds around her. But with this appeal, Folau has dragged her right into the middle of it.

“My fight with Rugby Australia to defend my right to practice my religion has so far cost my wife, Maria, and me over $100,000 in legal fees,” he declares in the video. “The cost to me and my family of continuing my legal action against Rugby Australia is expected to be significant.”

The sport’s governing body officially tore up Folau’s four-year, $5 million contract back in May, after he was found to have breached the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct for posting a meme that read: “Warning. Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you.”

But there are questions about whether there could be blowback for Maria’s impressive career, simply by association. The saga has certainly put a spotlight on the Goal Shooter, right in the thick of her Super Netball Season with Adelaide Thunderbirds and three weeks out from the Netball World Cup. And while she’s never publicly expressed the same views on gay people as her husband, she hasn’t distanced herself from them either.

 

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Missing huspan ????

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In fact, the New Zealander appeared to back her husband after a 2018 controversy in which he told an Instagram follower that God’s plan for gay people is “HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”. After the scandal broke, Maria, a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist, shared a meme that read, “Stand with God no matter what … Don’t be afraid to stand up for the truth, even if that means you will be standing alone.”

This time, though… nothing. Given her status as a high-profile sportsperson, there are many demanding she fill the silence.

It’s so far been left to others to do it for her.

Australian netball player, Ashleigh Brazill, told The Sydney Morning Herald back in April that Maria Folau had been “lovely” and supportive of her 2016 marriage to partner, Brooke Grieves: “When Brooke and I got married, I got a message off her saying congratulations and she liked all the [social media] posts.”

Meanwhile, Netball South Australia chief, Bronwyn Klei, has done her best to distance the sport from Israel’s comments.

“We are an inclusive sport which means that anyone, regardless of gender, religious belief, age, race or sexual orientation, should experience an environment that allows them to participate in without discrimination,” she told The Adelaide Advertiser in April.

“In South Australia, we have a dedicated netball team that have committed staff working with local and regional netballing communities to promote diversity and encourage inclusion.”

Maria’s Folau.

Israel and Maria married in NSW’s Kangaroo Valley in December 2017. During their engagement, the goal attack/goal shooter remained living in New Zealand while he was in Sydney, both due to playing commitments.

“We are both going through all those good and bad times,” she told MTV in May 2017, “so it’s nice to be with someone who knows exactly what you’re going through as an athlete.”

Maria started playing netball when she was eight years old and was selected to the New Zealand national team, the Silver Ferns, just 10 years later for the 2005 March test series against England. She made her on-court debut when the Ferns toured Jamaica later that year.

She’s since played for multiple New Zealand-based teams, before joining the Thunderbirds for the 2019 Super Netball season.

“I have to miss out on a lot. I’ve missed out on a few of my nieces birthdays, mum and dad’s birthdays, weddings. All of these moments you know you can’t relive,” she said back in 2017.

“I am very privileged to be doing this because this is something that I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a kid.”

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