Israel Folau and his wife Maria share deeply religious beliefs.
Israel Folau and his wife Maria share deeply religious beliefs.

Netball stares down sponsor pressure over Folau

NETBALL New Zealand is standing beside Maria Folau as controversy surrounds her support of husband Israel, and her religious views.

In a statement, Netball NZ stood by their player and said: "Maria Folau has not breached NNZ policy.

"Netball New Zealand values inclusion and diversity across all areas of the community and our sport whether it's gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality, religion, and we take responsibility as role models for young New Zealanders very seriously.

"We acknowledge that people have differing views and beliefs. It is important those opinions and views are expressed in constructive and respectful ways."

One of Netball New Zealand's major sponsors, ANZ, has raised concerns about Folau's support for her husband.

The Adelaide Thunderbirds star, like her husband, is deeply religious. She re-posted Israel's Instagram post where he asked for people to donate up to $3 million to help him fund his legal battle against Rugby Australia.

A spokesman for ANZ, the naming rights sponsor of the domestic premiership, told it did not support "the views of Silver Fern Maria Folau" and had made that known to Netball NZ, but would continue its support for the game more generally.

The Folaus.
The Folaus.

Netball Australia and South Australia both issued statements on the future of Maria Folau on Sunday, given her support of husband Israel, and her religious views.

They drew the ire of one of Australia's greatest  players in Liz Ellis, who slammed the diplomatic statements of both governing bodies as "not good enough".

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

Maria will return to Auckland this week for the Silver Ferns as they begin preparations for the upcoming Netball World Cup, which will take place in Liverpool in July.

As the tournament draws closer, the questions surrounding Maria will only increase and the pressure on the organisation multiply.

This article was originally published by the NZ Herald and reproduced with permission