What’s the difference between Haneen Zreika and Israel Folau?

AFLW player Haneen Zreika and former AFL player Israel Folau both attracted criticism for their public stance on same-sex relationships, but what is the difference between the two?

Zreika plays for Folau’s former club Greater Western Sydney Giants, and surrounded herself in controversy after refusing to wear a special rainbow jersey promoting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. Folau was eventually kicked out of rugby union, which he played as well as rugby league, because he posted two social media messages which offended the LGBTQIA+ community.

Zreika refused to wear the pride jersey with her Giants teammates due to her strong Muslim faith, and was subsequently left out of the team for the game against Western Bulldogs. Zreika was the first Muslim AFLW player when she debuted in 2019. Folau offended the LGBT+ community due to homophobia grounded in his strong Christian beliefs, and essentially wrote that all homosexuals go to hell.

The role of religion.

Zreika and Folau justified their stance on religious grounds. Zreika said she had a responsibility to represent her faith and community and that she respects people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Does she?

The faith she represents declares homosexuality a sin. The doctrine of the Muslim faith, when applied in society, declares homosexuality a crime which can, in some cases, be punishable by death.

Is Zreika devout?

Zreika chose not to wear the pride jersey due to her devotion. However, she wears the typical AFLW uniform every week and this is far too revealing for a Muslim woman, displaying the limbs and the hair. If Zreika was devout, would she not cover up even when playing sport, as many women from Muslim countries do in many other sports?

Interestingly, she did actually play in the pride round, the week before the jersey was worn, and ran through the traditional AFL banner at the start of the game which celebrated the LGBT+ community, and read:

“Pride round: an inclusive game for all. Everyone is welcome.”

The pride jersey was delayed until the Giants played at home the following week. Thus, did Zreika object to the pride round, or just the jersey? How likely is it that she was criticised by the Muslim community for participating in pride round and felt pressured to make a stance the following week?

To what extent was the decision Zreika’s, and to what extent was the opinion of the Muslim community, and its powerful men, made known to Zreika?

We will probably never know.

Religion also motivated Folau’s comments. The cross-code star posted a message claiming that hell was God’s plan for homosexuals. This attracted enormous criticism from many people, but Folau defended the comments as being true to his strong Christian faith. He was also warned that if he posted another similar message, he would lose his contract with Rugby Australia. He did so, and lost his contract.

Zreika posted a message on social media saying:

“…people are able to respect their right to choose how they live their life as long as they don’t advocate hate and division.”

Folau’s post clearly created hate and division, and this is the major difference between him and Zreika. Throughout the entire ugly process, Folau claimed he should be free to express his views because they are based on his religious beliefs.

Zreika is a Muslim.

Various commentators have suggested that the only difference is that Zreika is a Muslim, and that is why she has not been criticised as strongly as Folau. These commentators suggest that Australians are too scared to criticise Muslims due to political correctness of for fear of being labelled Islamophobic. They also claim these same people have no problems attacking Christians like Folau.

You can’t please all the people all the time…

The governing body has made great efforts to embrace all members of Australian society. They are the first and only major sports code in Australia to host a pride round.

Why?

Out of a genuine respect for the LGBT+ community?

Because they’re chasing the pink dollar?

Because many AFLW players are lesbians? (Are any AFL players gay?)

Political correctness?

For whatever, the AFL is known to include the LGBT+ community. They also embrace the Muslim community, especially in Giants territory. The fact that Zreika plays for the Giants added another complication for the AFL. Western Sydney is home to the majority of Sydney’s Muslim community, and if they are going to support any AFL team, it is the Giants.

The game involving the rainbow jersey, however, was played at Henson Park in Sydney’s inner west, a region famous for embracing gender and sexual diversity.

Was the Zreika case inevitable? Was the AFL bound to find itself in an unwinnable situation by publicly courting two communities which are diametrically opposed? One can only imagine the stressful meetings which must have taken place within the Giants and the AFL who were both desperate to avoid offending either group, while supporting both.

Some AFL fans are Muslim.

Some AFL fans are homosexual.

Some AFL fans don’t like Muslims or homosexuals.

The AFL is trying to appease them all.

It’s not possible to support the LGBT+ community and the Muslim community while Muslims consider homosexuality a sin or a crime. The AFL thinks it can. That said, the AFL could be said to have taken a stand. Zreika was stood down for the game, which punished her and her teammates.

Zreika has the support and respect of her teammates.

Zreika consulted her teammates, spoke to them face to face, and discussed her actions with the Giants and the AFL. Folau posted a spontaneous, offensive and hurtful message on social media, without context. Zreika certainly went about her actions in a far more mature, civilised, intelligent and respectful manner than Folau.

While Zreika reportedly had the support of her teammates, Folau also did, at least after the fact. Many professional footballers, including Gary Ablett Jr, Tim Mannah, Brad Takairangi, Curtis Rona and Taniela Tupou ‘liked’ and endorsed his posts on social media.

It’s only sport

The case also highlights the enormous strain placed on sport in Australia. Sport is so vital to Australian culture that social causes and social conflicts often manifest in sport – which is ultimately supposed to be nothing more than healthy fun. Perhaps Australians are expecting too much of sport as a vehicle for social change.

Haneen Zreika and Israel Folau both offended the LGBTQIA+ community with actions grounded in their strong religious beliefs. Folau was nominated for The Fronwlow Medal, should Zreika also be nominated?

So, what if the difference between them?

Zreika can actually play Aussie Rules.

Image: NuNa

Alan Jones to mentor nominees of The Frownlow Medal.

Sydney radio host Alan Jones will mentor nominees of The Frownlow Medal following a career inciting division and making inflammatory comments. The focus of the role will be to advise young players how to commit scandalous off-field acts which will increase their chances of winning the most prestigious award in Australian sport.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015 and code-swapper Karmichael Hunt was the most recent recipient.

The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.

The appointment comes after Jones publicly called on the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, to shove a sock down the throat of his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern.

“We’ve had our eye on Alan for some time,” explained a spokesperson for the judges of The Frownlow Medal.

“His latest comments confirmed that he is the perfect person to advise young footballers on how to create the kind of off-field scandal which could win them The Frownlow Medal, and he will work with players in the different areas.”

English teaching

Jones taught English at high school in Australia and is thus well-placed to teach footballers the importance of choosing their words carefully. For example, the comment “put a sock in it!” is a humorous Aussie way of telling someone to be quiet, but any English Teacher can tell you that the phrase “shove a sock down her throat” is a clear threat of violence against a woman which could essentially result in her death.

“One reason that Alan will be such a valuable mentor to footballers is that players may actually be required to commit murder in the future in order to win the Frownlow, considering the fact that two of the favourites this year are still being investigated for sexual assault of women and numerous players were kicked out of their respective sports for violence against women. The competition gets tougher every year.”

Your last, last chance.

Jones will also teach players what it means to be on their last chance or their final warning, only to be given another final warning and another last chance when they become involved in yet another scandal.

Free speech

The popular shock jock will explain the concept of free speech, especially when it can provide a defence for hateful homophobic comments on social media, or to defend the actions of any Christian, even one who has been found guilty of molesting children.

How to get off

No, not get off in that way. Footballers are already well versed in the myriad forms of getting off in their free time. Alan’s expertise is in how to get away with actions which would result in severe punishment for mere mortals.

The former Wallabies and Balmain Tigers coach has been accused of defamation many, many times during his career, but remains one of the most popular and highly paid radio hosts in the country. That kind of legal representation will come in very handy for many Frownlow nominees.

Jones will take up the role immediately, and nominated himself as MC for The Frownlow Medal awards night to be held later in the year.

Image: NuNa

God endorses candidates for The Frownlow Medal.

It’s official. God has spoken. The omnipotent being has given his blessing to the comments of Israel Folau and all of the footballers who supported the comments, and has endorsed their candidature for The Frownlow Medal.

God inspired Folau to post on social media that homosexuals would go to hell. Folau’s post was widely criticised but it received many likes from active footballers across three codes, who said it aligned with their Christian beliefs.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015 and code-swapper Karmichael Hunt was the most recent recipient.

Players were ‘outed’ for liking Folau’s post, and some of them apologised, or claimed to have supported the post without investigating its content. Others, such as Wallabies hooker Taniela Tupou, and Queensland Reds captain Samu Kerevi, defended their right to support Foloau because of their strong Christian faith.

Even the son of God, Gary Ablett Jr, was drawn into the controversy when he ‘liked’ the post on social media.

The following players at one point ‘liked’ Foloau’s instagram post:

Tupou

Kerevi

Ablett Jr.

Matthew Kennedy (AFL)

Tolu Latu (Super Rugby)

Allan Alaalatoa (Super Rugby)

Marika Koroibete (Super Rugby)

Brad Takaraingi (NRL)

Curtis Rona (Super Rugby)

Manu Ma’u (NRL)

Tim Mannah (NRL)

Michael Jennings (NRL)

Anthony Milford (NRL)

The judges of The Frownlow Medal have let it be known that they will not be attending confession if Folau or any of his brethren fail to win The Frownlow Medal this year.

Image: NuNa