The Australian Olympic Committee has refused to join other sporting organisations in backing same-sex marriage because it does not want to offend religious groups, chief executive Matt Carroll has revealed.
"I'm not ducking anything," Carroll said. "I'm just saying there are two sides to this discussion and I'm respecting both sides of this discussion. People's religious views are important and they should be respected."
Marriage equality has become a hot topic for Australia's major codes this week after NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg answered a plea from former player Ian Roberts to publicly endorse same-sex marriage.
Since then, the ARU and Cricket Australia have announced their support. AFL boss Gillon McLachlan declared his support in 2014 and FFA counterpart David Gallop did the same the following year.
Not all agree. Wallabies star Israel Folau, a devout Christian, took to social media on Wednesday afternoon to declare he was opposed to marriage equality.
"I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions but, personally, I will not support gay marriage," Folau tweeted.
His Wallabies teammate, David Pocock, who is a long-time supporter of marriage equality, responded: "When my survey arrives I'll #VoteYes for justice and love".
The AOC has been mute on the issue so far but released a statement on Wednesday morning to Fairfax Media in which it said it "respects diversity and supports raising awareness of discrimination" but did not commit to a position.
In a later interview, Carroll said the AOC was in a tough position because it represented 45 sports.
"We are a diverse, umbrella organisation," he said. "[The CEOs of other sports] represent one sport. I cannot speak on behalf of 40 sports, right? We are an umbrella organisation. I don't know what all our sports' views are. This issue isn't a sporting issue. This is about people's rights, human rights and understanding. That's why I have to respect the broad church that we are."
The AOC's position is in direct contrast to the Australian Paralympic Committee, which represents almost 30 sports, released a statement to Fairfax Media on Wednesday night.
"The core values of the Paralympic movement are courage, determination, inspiration and equality. Our organisation strongly believes in equality of opportunity for all, not just for some," APC president Glenn Tasker said.
"I am very proud that the APC Board believes in showing leadership on this subject, and we encourage anyone who has been touched by the power of Para-sport to come forward and show their support by voting 'yes' too."
The AOC's stance on the issue comes at a time when it is desperate to rebuild its reputation following a bitter campaign to overthrow long-standing president John Coates, who is in Lima, Peru, attending an IOC executive board meeting.
Carroll was appointed in March as the replacement for Fiona de Jong and has been charged with changing the "dysfunctional" workplace culture of the AOC. He is a former protege of ARU chief executive John O'Neill. He declined to disclose his own view on same-sex marriage as other sporting bosses have.
The AOC's stance is sure to divide opinion. Earlier this year, Australia's most successful Olympian, Ian Thorpe, admitted he had suicidal thoughts during his career as he struggled with his sexuality.
"There are people on both sides of this discussion who have views that need to be respected," Carroll said. "Obviously, sportspeople ??? their supporters, families, friends ??? in regards to sexual orientation need to be supported. Equally, there are people who have strong religious views.
"We can't discriminate against them either and they are entitled to their views. What we're saying is that the debate needs to be done with respect and understanding.
"We're saying let's have a sensible, respectful conversation. I don't support the extreme views on either side. Both sides are putting forward things that are discriminatory and we reject all these."
The FFA this week confirmed its long-running support for same-sex couples to marry.
Gallop was part of a group of CEOs including the heads of Qantas, PricewaterhouseCoopers and SBS who signed an open letter two years ago supporting marriage equality.