In the current issue of Rugby World we have a wide-ranging interview with the Tonga boss
Toutai Kefu on Israel Folau selection for Tonga
In the current issue of Rugby World, out Big Interview is with Tonga head coach and Wallabies legend Toutai Kefu.
In it, Kefu discusses the impact of the violent home invasion suffered by him and his family last year, as well as the big topics swirling around his country’s bid for Rugby World Cup qualification. And in amongst that we had to ask him about the controversial selection of Israel Folau for Tonga’s upcoming Tests – which include the World Cup qualification showdown with one of South Korea or Hong Kong.
So below is an extract from Rugby World’s Summer Tours Special, in which we explain the context and ask Kefu about Folau…
Toutai Kefu on Israel Folau in the latest issue
In the magazine we write:
There is no avoiding the monster under the bed when it comes to crossover stars. Folau’s presence not only changes the atmosphere, it will dominate discourse when he plays.
Destined to be an all-time great for the Wallabies from the back three, in May 2019 the evangelical Christian saw his Rugby Australia contract torn up following a social media post in which he claimed that “hell” awaits homosexuals and others. He had previously posted his opposition to gay marriage in 2017, and two years later made his infamous post. He did not back down.
Folau took the union to court for what he saw as unlawful dismissal and an out-of-court settlement in the millions of dollars hobbled an already struggling national body, by the time Covid hit. The saga left so many in the game disappointed, and Folau returned to league, a sport he shone in before union. He then took up another contract back in the 15-player game with Japan’s Shining Arcs.
The waters are further muddied by the fact Tonga is a country where homosexuality is still illegal. And so, left with all of this as a backdrop, can Kefu understand why picking the lethal-finishing Folau will leave a swathe of rugby fans around the world feeling let down and apprehensive?
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t really given much thought to it,” Kefu says. “I’ve just let those conversations happen and I’ve remained silent. I even gave an interview (in May) where my thoughts were twisted a bit in terms of social media use, so I was really disappointed with that. That’s probably why I don’t comment much on those kinds of things.
“Look, Israel Folau is Tongan. He’s acquired a Tongan passport. He’s got Tongan parents. He’s a bloody good player. He’s still playing bloody good football. And he’s eligible to play for us. That’s basically how I look at it.
“I’ve known Israel for a very long time and he’s a bloody good kid and we’re gonna welcome him with open arms.”
Okay, but if Tonga are in a World Cup, that’s a potentially huge global audience for him again. There will be deep focus and what he says has impact. Kefu says we cannot pre-empt anything. He’s picked; he’ll play.
We ask the coach again if he can understand why this still means so much to a community who feel threatened by posts that were so far-reaching. He replies: “I totally understand. This happened in the past and I’m sure he’s thought about those actions clearly and the ramifications of them. Everyone will still be thinking about that but if that happens again, or people mention it, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.”
What do you make of Kefu’s comment? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our social channels.
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