Social media and free speech: The case of Israel Folau and Rugby Australia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most professional athletes and sporting organizations use social media to share information, provide both personal and sports-related news, and promote products. Such sites allow athletes to voice their unmediated selves and, as such, provide an unregulated space where free speech is encouraged. However, at times, under the guise of “free speech,” high profile athletes can post both controversial and discriminatory messages on social media. An example of this is the case of Israel Folau. Folau, an Australian rugby union player, posted two separate “anti-gay” social media posts in 2018 and 2019. After receiving criticism for these posts, Folau defended his views on the grounds of religious freedom. When such an incident occurs, the responsibilities of the sporting association to determine the course of action and whether sanctions are warranted need to be considered. While Folau was eventually sanctioned in 2019, Rugby Australia took no action in 2018 on what seemed to be breaches to the governing body’s policies. This manuscript uses the case study of Folau to examine the competing liberties of religion and LGBTQI+ rights in relation to free speech.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-57
Number of pages12
JournalThe International Journal of Sport and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2021


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