sports

As the outrage builds against Israel Folau, questions are arising about his wife, Maria.

As Israel Folau met for crisis talks with Rugby Australia officials at a Sydney cafe on Friday, there was someone else at the table. His wife, Maria.

The champion netball player has remained silent – publicly, at least – as the outrage builds against her husband. Israel isn’t saying much either. Little wonder, given it seems he may have destroyed his playing future courtesy of a bigoted social media post that condemned gay people, among others.

The meme, which was published on Wednesday and remains on the 30-year-old Instagram and Twitter accounts, reads: “Warning. Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent. Only Jesus saves.”

It’s not the first time Israel has expressed anti-gay views. And Rugby Australia appear to have had enough: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport,” RA Chief Executive, Raelene Castle, and NSW Rugby Union CEO, Andrew Hore, said in a statement on Thursday. “In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”

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 her, just weeks out from the start of her next season as the Adelaide Thunderbirds’ star shooter. And while she’s never publicly expressed the same views on gay people as her husband, she hasn’t distanced herself from them either.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Missing huspan ????

A post shared by MARIA FOLAU (@mariatutaia) on

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

In the meantime, 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 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 Supernetball League 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.”

00:00 / ???