Israel Folau clarifies scandalous claim
Israel Folau has moved to clarify comments he made earlier this month suggesting the devastating bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia were God's way of punishing the country for legalising same-sex marriage.
Giving a sermon to his church congregation, Folau - who is after $14 million in compensation from Rugby Australia after the governing body sacked him for anti-gay comments made on Instagram - implied the fires were God's way of speaking to people and encouraging them to repent.
But in a video uploaded to his personal website today, Folau tried to express what he really meant, saying people can take his comments the "wrong way". He then spoke over piano music after the words "Are natural disasters sent by God?" appeared on screen, saying his remarks were just meant to be a "timely reminder of God's word".
"God is full of love and the scriptures say that God is patient and is not willing that anyone should perish but come to repentance, so that's why I'm so passionate about sharing God's word even if it comes across as harsh and people take it the wrong way," Folau said.
"What I was referring to in terms of the natural disasters that are happening now wasn't a direct, I guess, message to the people that are affected.
"In actual fact, it was just a timely reminder of God's word and trying to point people onto the path of righteousness.
"In saying that, my thoughts and prayers do go out to the people that are affected. It's horrible to see and you never want anyone to go through that sort of stuff, but as a Christian, you are always praying for people.
"You see the droughts today, you pray for rain and things to be restored. That's ultimately as Christians what we're driven by and what we're bound by is God's love."
Folau was slammed for his initial comments about the bushfires, when he said: "Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come in a short period of time. Do you think it's a coincidence or not?
"God is speaking to you guys. Australia you need to repent and take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God."
Prime Minster Scott Morrison called Folau's words "appallingly insensitive" and even one of his biggest supporters Alan Jones told him to "button up".
In an updated statement of claim lodged with the Federal Circuit Court this week, Folau upped his compensation demand to Rugby Australia from $10 million to $14 million, partly justifying this increase by saying he will now miss out on extra earnings that come with being skipper of the national side.
But former Wallabies teammate David Pocock says he doesn't know why Folau thinks he would oust captain Michael Hooper.
"I think Michael Hooper has been doing a great job and he's contracted to the next World Cup so I'm not sure where Izzy's getting that from," Pocock said on Fox Sports News on Friday.
Hooper, 28, is two years younger than Folau, making it more implausible the former rugby league and AFL star would be thrust into the top job.
Pocock's comments come after former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons labelled Folau's captaincy claim "absurd", particularly given he was never even named as vice-captain.
"It just gets ever more absurd," FitzSimons told TVNZ. "From a distance, I just thought, 'What? Captain?' … but Michael Cheika, who was the Wallabies coach of course, he moved through seven vice-captains.
"Now, if Michael Cheika had seven vice-captains and Israel Folau wasn't one of them, I think by definition he was a very unlikely man to be captain.
"I find the claim absolutely absurd."