CRICKET star Shane Watson, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and gay rugby player Gareth Thomas have weighed in on Australia’s same-sex marriage debate as the fallout from Israel Folau’s tweet continues to rage.
Watson tweeted a link to a Daily Telegraph story headlined ‘I nearly quit Wallabies for love,’ in which Folau reveals he almost walked away from Australian rugby to be with his New Zealand netball star fiancee Maria Tutaia.
Watson accompanied the link by writing: “Love should have no boundaries #VoteYes #MarriageEquality.”
As of 3pm AEST on Thursday, Folau’s tweet had triggered 3300 comments, 1500 retweets and 6300 likes.
Folau is a devout Christian but his views put him at odds with his employers, the Australian Rugby Union, who are supporting the ‘yes’ campaign along with Football Federation Australia, Cricket Australia and the NRL.
The Wallabies have changed their Twitter profile photo to incorporate rainbow colours in support of diversity.
But Cheika — in camp in Canberra with Folau and the Wallabies — supported his fullback’s right to publicly voice his views.
He didn’t think the divisive issue would cause a rift among his players.
“A lot of people have different opinions about lots of things in our team and our team is a reflection of Australia.
“One of the great things about Australia is you can say what you feel and have respect given to you and pay respect to others.
“And definitely within our team culture, especially this last eight weeks since we’ve come back and attacked the Rugby Championship, there’s been a real camaraderie, a real respect.
“Players come from all different places and being welcomed in that jersey, that’s king to us.
“It wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t made news and internally we’ve got 100 per cent respect for everyone’s opinions on all matters.”
Cheika was also asked about how Folau was coping with the high profile backlash.
“You’d have to think he’d know that that would happen and it’s an opinion,” Cheika said.
“It’s his opinion and that’s the way that we should operate in this environment — respect people’s opinion.”
Welsh rugby great Thomas, who is gay, made his feelings crystal clear on Twitter.
Thomas made several suicide attempts after confessing to his wife Jemma in 2006 that he had been secretly homosexual throughout their five-year marriage.
“For a lot of guys, they’re about footy and our job is rugby, but sport has the ability to cross boundaries,” Hooper said.
“We’re all very supportive of the ‘yes’ campaign and this is the approach we’ve taken.
“I know guys at the Waratahs have done work with the Sydney Convicts (Australia’s first gay rugby club).
Folau’s All Blacks rival TJ Perenara also spoke out, writing on Instagram: “Love doesn’t discriminate, why should we? Join NZ and vote yes to equality!!”
The Folau news went international with high profile outlets such as the BBC and The Telegraph carrying the story.
“Israel Folau is the fullback for a very disappointing Waratahs team, as well as a very disappointing Wallabies team,” Wall wrote.
“So at least it was keeping in character that he made a very disappointing tweet last night regarding marriage equality in Australia...
“In a week where the Australian Rugby Union would’ve just been looking forward to a rare occasion when the Wallabies would go into a game as favourites, Folau’s paradoxical show/lack of support for gay people is a sideshow they really didn’t need.”
“Israel Folau’s tweet signalling his opposition to SSM, and some misguided and stupidly ugly backlash that unfortunately followed, would not have changed had the ARU stayed on the fence,” Gearin wrote.
“I would like to think Folau felt supported enough in his rugby community to make a stand, and that even teammates who disagree with him would not follow the example of Twitter trolls who are piling on.”
LIVE stream the Rugby Championship on FOX SPORTS. Get your free 2-week Foxtel Now trial and start watching in minutes. SIGN UP NOW >
Also read: The end of the Bushrangers? Such is life