Meet Israel Folau’s equally controversial wife, netball star Maria Folau

She's standing by her man - and it's putting her career at risk.
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Israel Folau and his wife Maria Folau are the most controversial and talked-about couple in Australia right now, for all the wrong reasons.

The former rugby star and his New Zealand-born wife, who plays netball for Adelaide’s Thunderbirds, have put their professional careers at risk thanks to their strong Pentecostal Christian beliefs – both have stated online that they believe gay people are going to hell – and are receiving waves of criticism for their homophobic views.

Maria and Israel are often mistaken for siblings due to their similar looks.

(Credit: Instagram)

It all started in April 2018, when Folau replied to an Instagram comment asking about “God’s plan for homosexuals” with “Hell.. unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”

A year later during Easter 2019, the 30-year-old shared a meme bearing the words “homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves” and captioned the post, “WARNING: HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT. ONLY JESUS SAVES”.

Folau, who grew up as a Mormon but later converted to the Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, and whose father is a Christian pastor, has been sacked by Rugby Australia and is currently launching legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission for unlawful termination.

The rugby star, who was on a $5 million contract with Rugby Australia, wants to claim $10 million in damages.

And now the GoFundMe page he set up to crowdfund his supposed $3 million in legal costs has been shut down, with the $760,000 in donations Folau received refunded to their donors.

But what of the woman standing by Folau during this turbulent time? And does she share his views?

Here’s everything you need to know about Maria Folau.

She’s one of NZ’s top netballers

Maria is a force to be reckoned with on the netball court.

(Credit: Instagram)

The talented GA/GS is famous for nailing crucial goals at key moments in nail-biting games and has built a reputation as a formidable player on the court.

Basically if Maria is under the goalpost, she’s pretty much guaranteed to make the shot.

She’s represented New Zealand at multiple Commonwealth Games and for years played for NZ’s Northern Mystics and Silver Ferns teams – and she’s about to represent New Zealand in the 2019 Netball World Cup.

Now she plays for the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the Australian Super Netball league – but thanks to her outspoken religious views, her job could be in jeopardy (more on that in a sec).

The Folau wedding looked like a fairytale

Maria and Israel on their wedding day in 2017.

(Credit: Instagram)

Maria and Israel’s relationship started off long-distance, with the pair focusing their time on their respective sporting careers.

They dated for nine months before going public and announced their engagement in October 2016.

Israel says he always knew he and Maria would last, making the challenges they faced going long distance worth it.

“I felt very quickly that this relationship was different to anything else I’d known and Maria was the person I wanted to spend forever with,” he said.

“We knew at the time we committed to each other that the next period of our lives would be full of challenges.

“I want Maria to achieve everything she can out of her netball career, and she feels the same way about my footy.”

As for how they made it work? Lots of flights and lots of phone calls.

“Some days I jump on a plane to Auckland in the morning and fly back to Sydney the same night (you should see my frequent flyer points). Other days I talk on the phone for hours and hours (you should see my phone bills),” he said.

The couple have been married for under 2 years and are sticking by each other through the media scrutiny.

(Credit: Instagram)

Maria and Israel were married in the Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales on 15 November 2017, in a private outdoor ceremony.

When sharing the above snap from her nuptials on Instagram, Maria wrote: “Two imperfect people who refuse to give up on one another.”

But the couple’s happy day was overshadowed by her husband’s comments about the same-sex marriage postal survey, where 69 per cent of Australians voted in support of changing the law to permit gay couples to marry.

After the Australian Rugby Union publicly backed the “yes” vote, its biggest star turned against his employer and publicly aired his dissatisfaction with their decision.

“I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. But personally, I will not support gay marriage,” he wrote on Twitter at the time.

And yes, Maria supports her husband’s views

(Credit: Instagram)

While Maria hasn’t officially gone on the record for or against her husband’s homophobic claims, she’s made it very clear on social media that she stands by her man’s comments.

“Stand with God no matter what…Don’t be afraid to stand up for the truth, even if that means you will be standing alone,” she posted on Instagram following Israel’s first controversial post last year.

And just this week, she publicly backed her man again, as she reposted her husband’s plea for people to donate to his cause via GoFundMe, including a link to the page in her Instagram bio.

WATCH BELOW: Maria Folau dominates on the netball court. Story continues after video.

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And it’s putting her career at risk

Netball Australia say they do not endorse Maria’s views.

(Credit: Instagram)

Netball South Australia says while it doesn’t agree with Maria’s views, they will not issue any punishment, because unlike her husband, she has not violated the organisation’s social media policy.

“While Netball SA in no way endorses the reposting, we do not believe Maria has contravened our social media policy,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Maria is a key member of the Thunderbirds. Not only has she provided great strength and leadership on court, she attends and works with netballing clinics, spends a lot of time with fans, engages with local communities and passionately encourages kids with their netball dreams.

“We continue to support her as we support all our players.”

But Netball SA’s comments were slammed as “not good enough” by netball legend Liz Ellis.

“How about this: There is no room for homophobia in our game. Anyone who is seen to support or endorse homophobia is not welcome. As much as I love watching Maria Folau play netball, I do not want my sport endorsing the views of her husband,” Ellis said.

In response, Netball South Australia chief executive Bronwyn Klei said: “We are an inclusive sport, which means that anyone, regardless of gender, religious belief, age, race or sexual orientation should experience an environment that allows them to participate without discrimination.”

Could Israel’s comments cost Maria her job?

(Credit: Instagram)

Sponsors are getting pissed off – and that’s seriously bad news

Some high profile netball sponsors, including ANZ and Health Insurance company HCF, haven’t been shy about their disgust of Maria’s views.

ANZ, which sponsors both the Silver Ferns and New Zealand’s netball league, says it does not support Maria Folau’s views and has contacted Netball New Zealand over the issue.

But the company denies it has put pressure on the organisation to drop Maria.

“We value our partnership with Netball NZ and any suggestion we have tried to pressure them is absolutely incorrect,” the company said in a statement.

HCF, which sponsors Maria’s Australian team the Adelaide Thunderbirds, has reportedly told Netball Australia: “We do not support Maria Folau’s stance.”

Another sponsor, Suncorp, has avoided taking a stand either way.

“Suncorp’s sponsorship of the Super Netball League is focused on building a nation of confident girls and championing the importance of participation in sport across Australia. Suncorp Group proudly supports diversity and inclusion of our people and customers,” said a spokesman.

The Silver Fern is set to represent her country next month at the Netball World Cup.

(Credit: Instagram)

Back in her native New Zealand, there are calls for the sport’s governing body Netball New Zealand to issue disciplinary action.

So far, the organisation has stood by its star player.

Maria is returning home to train with the NZ Silver Ferns before the Netball World Cup next month, but her comments could put her spot on the team in jeopardy.

In an op-ed titled Netball New Zealand is failing to deal with the Maria Folau issue, one sports reporter wrote: “Just because Netball NZ don’t want this to be an issue, doesn’t mean it isn’t. You can’t close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope this all goes away.”

Is Maria Folau ready for her husband’s comments to derail her own career, as well as her husband’s?

If she wants to keep her job, now is the time to act.

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