Israel Folau has received some high-profile support after fans criticised him for not taking a knee during a Black Lives Matter protest in the UK Super League.
Folau, playing for Catalans Dragons, raised eyebrows at the kick-off against champions St Helens in Leeds on Sunday when he remained standing while other players and officials fell to their knees in support of the Black Lives Matter cause.
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The Black Lives Matters movement has grown around the world since the death of American George Floyd while being arrested in May.
All recent Premier League football matches have seen players take a knee before kick-off - a move Super League said they wanted to replicate.
But Folau remained standing - and scores of fans weren’t happy.
However Folau’s most high-profile support has since defended the former Wallabies star’s right to remain standing.
Alan Jones says Folau was “courageous” and probably knew taking a knee wouldn’t achieve anything.
“Israel Folau, most probably more than anyone else in the game, knows what discrimination is about. He expressed thoughtful views on the Bible, which in any other age, where freedom of speech would have meant something, would have passed under the guise of his rightful entitlement,” Jones wrote for News Corp.
“Are we now in a world peopled by individuals behaving in a mindless and robotic way where freedom of thought, belief and expression become controversial?
“Israel Folau is a devout Christian. He would believe, from his teachings, that all lives matter. He would know that empty gestures like this achieve nothing for black people in America or Indigenous people in Australia, or his own fellow Pacific Islanders.”
Israel Folau an ‘easy target’
Sydney Morning Herald writer Phil Lutton also came to Folau’s defence, saying the 31-year-old is simply an “easy target” because of his controversial past.
Folau has courted controversy ever since his homophobic comments on social media that saw him sacked by Rugby Australia.
“He has made himself an easy target with his damaging homophobic social media posts, for which he was rightly sacked by Rugby Australia for breaches of the player code before being signed by the French league outfit,” Lutton wrote.
“It would probably help if he explained his reasoning but he shouldn't feel compelled to do that, either.
“Can we assume that Folau doesn't support racial equality because he didn't take a knee? Obviously not.
“As a Polynesian, he's no doubt dealt with his fair share of barbs and insulting stereotyping on and off the field. More likely, his reasoning once again comes back to his religion.”
Catalans coach Steve McNamara also defended Folau’s decision not to kneel, and said he was entitled to make a personal choice.
“As a group of players and coaching staff, we spoke about it in depth and as a club we are completely against racism and all for equal opportunity,” McNamara said.
“But there were some players and staff who made the decision not to take the knee.
“That was based on personal choice, they have their own reasons for doing that, and we decided we would respect anyone's personal choice on the matter.”