Wallabies star Israel Folau said he has no regrets about saying gay people would go to “hell” and holds no grudges against his critics as he prepares for a return to Super Rugby.
Folau, sidelined from the New South Wales Waratahs with a hamstring injury since late March, has been selected to face the Auckland Blues in Sydney on Saturday.
The devout Christian, one of Australia’s most marketable players, caused a storm when he made the comments on social media last month.
But he said he was not backing away from his staunch beliefs regarding homosexuality, and insisted the backlash had not diminished his desire to play.
“I’ve said what I’ve said in recent weeks, for personally, just standing up for what I believe and standing firm on that,” he was cited as saying by Australian media Friday.
“That’s something that comes truly from the bottom of my heart, it doesn’t interfere with anything to do with my rugby and the guys around, team-mates. I’m still the same person and I try to bring that energy as best as I can when I’m around the team.
“Going out and playing on weekends doesn’t change who I am.”
Folau said he wasn’t upset by the angry response to his remarks, notably from All Blacks TJ Perenara and Brad Weber.
“Absolutely not, I don’t take anything personally,” Folau said. “I understand everyone is entitled to their opinions. I’ve said what I’ve said in recent weeks, I leave it there.”
Rugby Australia did not sanction Folau for his comments despite the outrage of some sponsors and fans, given he was expressing his religious beliefs.
Folau, who is out of contract at the end of this season and has been linked with a move to rugby league, said the furore would not affect any decision on his future.
“Absolutely not, it’s nothing personal,” he said. “You’re an adult, you’ve got to clear those things up and look at what are the main things out of it.
“You can’t hold grudges, you can’t take anything personal. I’ve been fine with how everything has rolled out the last month.”