Once again Raelene Castle is in the news. The Rugby Australia chief executive has been forced to state she is ‘very comfortable’ with the way the association dealt with the Israel Folau case, in the wake of allegations from 110-cap prop Sekope Kepu that the actions of Rugby Australia hurt the Wallabies’ World Cup prospects. In documents obtained by News Corp, Kepu was seen to be ‘disappointed’ by the manner in which the issue was handled.
Both Kepu and Samu Kerevi, both of whom are now playing their club rugby outside of Australia, reportedly wrote affidavits in support of their fellow pacific islander and fundamentalist Christian teammate Folau. It is not hard to imagine how such actions could have divided Australia’s squad, with captain Michael Hooper and coach Michael Cheika both speaking out firmly against Folau.
“I did not attend the camp,” Kepu wrote, of the pre-world cup training camp in the wake of the Folau incident, “this was because I was so upset about the way in which management had handled Israel’s situation that I didn’t think it would be a good thing for me to attend.” He also alleged he was pulled from media duty by both the NSW Waratahs and the Wallabies, and that prayer groups within the Wallabies camp have been stopped as a result of the Folau case.
All this Castle denies. “I’m so insulted that people think that would be acceptable behaviour for Rugby Australia,” she said. “I’m on public record saying I’m proud of the fact that Israel was a strongly Christian man and was proud of his faith and expressed it as such. But he made a comment that was insulting.”
Yet it is not hard to find fissures in both the Australia squad and Australian society more generally. Folau was a symptom of these divisions and tensions, somebody whose case exposed them rather than somebody who created them per se. One can imagine David Pocock, a liberal activist when he’s not being an elite openside, was less than impressed by Folau’s behaviour.
On the flip side, Samu Kerevi now plays his club rugby in Japan. He has previously expressed his desire to represent his country of birth, Fiji, at the 2023 World Cup. He is another example of how questions of identity and faith have troubled Australia in both personal and sporting terms. It is hard not to connect his obvious outrage at how a fellow player (one whose personal life and viewpoints so closely mirror his own) was rejected and ostracized by Australian rugby, and his desire to represent Fiji.
Australia, like everywhere at the minute, is a deeply divided country. It is divided economically, it is divided geographically, it is divided by ethnicity, it is divided by income and it is divided by religion. It is divided over Scott Morrison.
The tensions and pulls between its sizable Christian fundamentalist core and a younger, more liberal, more affluent contingent – one statistically more likely to be white and well educated – are there for all to see. The Folau case has shone a light on these issues, but they will not go away with him.
Written by Joe Ronan.