Israel Folau has signed a contract to play rugby league in Europe, joining the Catalan Dragons in the south of France, prompting one of the club’s forthcoming opponents to make its feelings known via social media.
The controversial former Wallabies player, who has not played since being sacked by Rugby Australia for making homophobic comments, has signed a one-year contract with the Super League club.
“We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch,” Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said.
But minutes after Folau’s signing was made public on Twitter, Wigan announced its home match against Catalans on March 22 would be Pride Day that will support the local LGBT community.
Learn more 👇https://t.co/nvxK1VHHq1
— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) January 28, 2020
Super League’s first openly gay player has slammed the decision of the game’s governing body, the Rugby Football League, to allow Catalans Dragons to sign Folau.
Wakefield Trinity prop Keegan Hirst said he was shocked and disappointed at news of Folau’s signing following his sacking by Rugby Australia last year.
“Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in,” Hirst tweeted.
“It shows none of the bravery, camaraderie or integrity RFL expects from its players, staff and fans.”
Dual-code international Folau signed a 12-month deal with the French side on Tuesday, 10 years after he last played in the NRL with Brisbane Broncos.
The move was largely greeted with outrage by the British rugby league community. Super League CEO Robert Elstone said he was disappointed but conceded there was little he could do to prevent the signing.
“Super League deplores the homophobic comments Israel Folau has made in the past, which squarely contradict our sport’s core values,” Elstone said.
“I have sought the opinion of informed voices connected to our game, and the majority share my disappointment that one of our clubs has chosen to sign him.
“There is a strong feeling that the decision to sign him lets down many people connected to our sport.
“I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views.
“However, Super League does not have the authority to veto the registration of players and is satisfied by the due diligence carried out by The Rugby Football League.
“Israel Folau is a free agent, who has the right to work, and he has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.
“Catalans Dragons has assured Super League that strict guidelines are in place to prevent the player from repeating his comments.
“They have also assured us that his contract will be terminated immediately should he do so.”
Folau’s infamous Instagram post, in which he warned hell awaits homosexuals, resulted in his sacking last May.
But the two parties agreed an out-of-court settlement in December after the former Wallaby sued Rugby Australia for religious discrimination.
The RFL echoed Elstone’s comments but claimed moral responsibility for signing a player lay with individual clubs, given the former cross-code superstar had has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.
Folau said he’d taken on board the concerns and promised not to make any comments that could cause offence.
“I acknowledge the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football League,” he said.
“I’m a proud Christian, my beliefs are personal, my intention is not to hurt anyone and I will not be making further public comment about them.
“I look forward to my return to the great game of rugby league with the Catalans Dragons.”
So free speech hero Israel Folau has signed a contract which prevents him expressing some of his religious views to be able to join a French rugby league club…what happened to standing on principle 🤷♂️🙄
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) January 28, 2020
Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said his club wanted to give Folau a new opportunity but did not share his religious beliefs.
“We do not believe that those views should be publicly expressed, especially by a high-profile sports person,” Guasch said.
“We have a signed agreement with the RFL.
“Any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of Israel’s contract and a substantial fine for the club.”