The outcry from a couple of Kiwi halfbacks after Israel Folau's hateful and hurtful comments is made even more emphatic when compared with the deafening silence across the ditch.

Only former Australian players have dared to wade into a debate that was this week enhanced by the thoughtful and articulate views of Brad Weber and TJ Perenara, men who have faced Folau in the past and will probably play him again.

Which is not to get sanctimonious or boastful about the position of New Zealand rugby. Far from it, consider-ing Wallabies flanker David Pocock for years has been by far the sport's strongest voice on issues of societal import.

But the tepid reply on the other side of the Tasman has been noteworthy, coming from a country in which almost 40 per cent of referendum respondents voted no when it last year became the 25th nation to legalise same-sex marriage.


And it's been particularly noteworthy when focusing on a Kiwi at the centre of the saga.

Raelene Castle is facing her biggest test in an ascendant sports administrative career. But you'd barely know it from the way she has been reacting.

The Rugby Australia (RA) chief has been publicly challenged by Folau after the player's please-explain meeting and has copped criticism for her organisation's weak response to the ongoing scandal.

That response initially amounted to a mealy-mouthed statement saying Folau would face no sanction, followed by a media appearance after which the boss' version of events was summarily disputed by the employee, followed by another decree taking no issue with that dispute.

With her authority being questioned by the sport's biggest name in Australia, Castle's next move will be revealing.

Raelene Castle. Photo / Getty Images
Raelene Castle. Photo / Getty Images

Considering there is nothing in Folau's contract preventing him from expressing his outdated beliefs, in a "respectful" way of course, Castle can hardly force Folau's hand and accept his threat to walk away from Australian rugby.

But there are other ways for her to wrest control from a player who is holding the sport to ransom.

Chief among them would be a far greater public condemnation of Folau's words. There seems minimal damage in doing so, aside from losing a few fans standing on Folau's side.

Public sentiment is largely against the fullback and, if it's perhaps more split than one hopes, Castle can easily console herself in the knowledge that taking a strong stand on the matter places her on the right side of history.

And, most importantly, a precedent will be set. RA does not stand for any expression of opinion harmful to others. Religious views are fine if they're in the "love your neighbour" category; not so much the "you're going to burn in hell" variety.

No group of people should feel at risk simply for existing. Substitute sexuality for race or gender, and see how readily words such as Folau's would be accepted.

Israel Folau. Photo / Nick Reed
Israel Folau. Photo / Nick Reed

People in his position of prominence should have expectations attached to their conduct. And, even if it looks unlikely to happen, it's up to people like Castle to enforce those expectations.

Adding to the greater good

Folau's ill-advised work on Instagram, oddly enough, may eventually prove for the greater good if it leads to more Kiwi athletes speaking out on issues of non-sporting significance.

There's no doubting, as Weber and Perenara have shown this week, that this nation's sportspeople are socially conscious. They've just rarely in the past expressed that in public.

Which is entirely their prerogative and there is little downside to remaining silent. As Michael Jordan may or may not have famously said - depending on whom you believe - Republicans buy shoes, too.

Similarly, though, it's difficult to imagine any adverse consequences for those educated on a particular issue expressing their thoughts at a salient moment. Organisations and sponsors and supporters are all becoming more diverse and more progressive. This isn't the NFL, where Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed after his protest at police treatment of minority communities, with the quarterback suing the league for colluding to keep him out out of a job.

Weber and Perenara were met with rapturous acclaim for their tweets, and for other athletes on other topics, it would more often than not be a similar story.

Our sporting heroes have an incredible platform and, through social media, a perfect medium through which to communicate.

Like in the NBA, where LeBron James is among those who have led a social awakening on and off line, now appears the perfect time to use it.