29 Apr 2019

Air should be cleared if Folau plays for Ferns

10:48 am on 29 April 2019

Sports Call - Maria Folau's chances of a Netball World Cup spot might be in jeopardy after husband Israel's social media comments.

Sports reporter Ravinder Hunia highlights why Netball New Zealand needs to tread carefully when selecting its World Cup squad.

Silver Ferns shooter Maria Folau

Silver Ferns netball veteran Maria Folau has plenty on her plate. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

National selections for the World Cup are next month and a debut with the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the Australian Super Netball competition this weekend.

But a social media scandal was something she didn't need.

Almost a year to the day husband Israel first posted his views on homosexuality as well as other social groups as being "sinful", here she is.

  • Israel Folau sacked, given 48-hours to appeal
  • Last year Maria took to Instagram in support of Israel advising to 'stand with God no matter what'.

    This time she has kept her opinion to herself though her silence may be doing more harm than good. It's not so easy to ignore the issue publicly in a sport like netball which attracts a large number of the LGBTQ community, both in New Zealand and Australia.

    The upcoming match against the New Zealand men's team which was thought to be a celebration of inclusion now risks being tainted by the issue and whether she likes it or not, Maria will be at the forefront when it comes to the June series.

    Netball New Zealand (NNZ) told Radio NZ that Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua won't make comment on the matter until selections are made in May, so only then will it be known how seriously NNZ has taken the matter and whether Maria will take part in the series.

    If Maria competes the air needs to be cleared.

    On 31 March, 2016 NNZ released a 'Diversity and Inclusion Commitment Statement' which includes:

    "National Sporting Organisations and representative bodies (including Netball NZ) are committed to developing and implementing policies, programmes and practices that encourage greater diversity and inclusion across sport, be that in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability and advance the eradication of discrimination from sport."

    "In embarking on this project, the organisations involved are cognisant of the important role of sport in New Zealand, and the potential for sport to promote and lead important social change across New Zealand society generally."

    Israel Folau

    Israel Folau Photo: Photosport

    In a world-first televised event the Silver Ferns will play the NZ men's team whose coach is transgender and some players openly gay.

    Where does that leave the players affected by Israel's comments, and how are they expected to approach the match?

    This issue and its timing has heightened NNZ's responsibility which will be under the microscope in a series that represents so much more than netball now.

    Co-coach Sarah Michelle Hansen Vaeau, who is openly transgender, has trained and played with Maria since she played for the Auckland Diamonds between 2005-07, as well as other players in the squad who have looked up to Maria as a shooting icon.

  • Sarah Michelle Hansen-Vaeau - world's first transgender international sports coach?
  • To say this has nothing to do with her because they are the views of Israel risks causing more harm than good.

    NNZ will be doing everything in its power to select one of the strongest shooters netball has ever seen for the upcoming World Cup - and rightfully so.

    Maria Folau.

    Maria Folau. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

    But the dark cloud of Israel's social media posts can't be ignored in the process.

    Former All Black winger Nehe Milner-Skudder was among the first to respond, as well as countless athletes abroad but what was telling was Wellington-based netball team the Central Pulse, many whom have played alongside Maria, taking a public stand.

    Between now and the June Series, Israel's fate with Rugby Australia may be determined and Maria will have some serious decisions to make - one of them being 'Bonnie' to Israel's 'Clyde' at the code of conduct hearing on 4 May or not.

    It's a classic case of guilty by association, but it's no excuse to exercise silence if the black dress is her goal. There was no way Rugby Australia would have wanted to let Israel go but they argue the choice was made up for them.

    Netball New Zealand need to take advantage of addressing the issue on their own terms in what will be one of the largest sporting diversity events the world has ever seen where every player, including Maria, deserves to have their well-being protected.

    - RNZ