Australia

Anger in New Zealand as Maria Folau 'dragged' into controversy

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The controversy surrounding ex-Wallaby Israel Folau has made its way to New Zealand where his wife is a sporting hero in her own right.

In Australia, the wife of sacked fullback Israel Folau has been seen as a silent supporter to the ex-Wallaby amid his legal stoush with Rugby Australia.

But in New Zealand, the role of Maria Folau is receiving national attention.

Maria Folau has been thrown into the Australian spotlight following the controversy surrounding her husband, former Wallaby Israel Folau.
Maria Folau has been thrown into the Australian spotlight following the controversy surrounding her husband, former Wallaby Israel Folau.
Maria Folau / Instagram

New Zealand-born Maria was a netball star long before she met Folau. 

She was just 16-years-old when she debuted for her country and is now one of the biggest names in the Kiwi national team, the Silver Ferns. 

Ms Folau had a shooting accuracy of 87.5 per cent against the All Stars on Wednesday night, in their opening match of the Cadbury Series. 

Ms Folau hasn't spoken publicly about her husband's controversy but angered many when she shared a post about his public fundraising campaign on her own Instagram.

ANZ Bank issued a statement saying it did not support the views of the Silver Ferns player and said it had made its thoughts known to Netball New Zealand.

But the Silver Ferns has backed their star shooter, with assistant coach Debbie Fuller telling local radio:

"It's a really complex issue for a start. It is something that we've been very well aware of. Our first port of call, of course, is to care for Maria." 

The issue is making waves in New Zealand media, with one outlet describing her as a "Silver Ferns hero" now "vilified wife"

Former Rugby Australia star Israel Folau opens up to Sky News Australia hosts Peta Credlin (left) and Alan Jones.
Former Rugby Australia star Israel Folau opens up to Sky News Australia hosts Peta Credlin (left) and Alan Jones.
Sky News Australia

Israel Folau had his multi-million dollar contract terminated earlier this year over a social media post condemned as homophobic.

He opened up on Thursday about the impact on his family.

“It’s been a very tough time for Maria, myself and our families,” he told Sky News hosts Alan Jones and Peta Credlin in an exclusive TV interview.

"She has been dragged into this situation unexpectedly and it's been very frustrating for her.

"I'm very lucky she is a strong woman, she is the same as me, convicted by her faith."

Posts on her Instagram have been inundated with comments, some calling on her to "stay away" from the 2019 Netball World Cup in England next month.

"Do the @silverfernsnz know that you are homophobic?" one social media user commented.

"The whole world is supporting you two - be strong," said another.

The pair started their relationship long distance, before announcing their engagement in October 2016.

They married the next year at Kangaroo Valley in NSW.

Ms Folau is returning home to train with the Silver Ferns soon, before the Netball World Cup next month.

Dispute destined for court

On Friday, Rugby Australia and Israel Folau failed to reach an agreement over the former Wallaby's sacking during a meeting lasting almost four hours, with the dispute now destined for court. 

Representatives from both parties met at the Fair Work Commission on Friday for a mediation hearing as part of Folau's unfair dismissal case.

"We are disappointed that we were unable to reach a settlement with Rugby Australia today," Folau's lawyer George Haros told reporters in Sydney.

"It appears as though that unless things change, we'll be heading to court."

RA and NSW Rugby Union also said they were disappointed with the outcome.

"We remain confident in our processes and will continue to do what is required to defend the values that underpin our game," RA said in a statement.

Folau had hoped RA would apologise for terminating his multi-million dollar contract over a social media post in April condemned as homophobic.

The 30-year-old's post paraphrased a Bible passage saying "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" would go to hell unless they repented.

The committed Christian argues he was unfairly dismissed on religious grounds, and is seeking $10 million in damages from RA and wants his contract reinstated.

An online fundraiser supported by the Australian Christian Lobby this week raised about $2.2 million to fund his legal battle.

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