Disgraced rugby player Israel Folau has signed a contract with a new club and will play the majority of his games in the UK.
Folau made headlines around the world in April 2018 when he claimed God’s plan for gay people is ‘Hell.. unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.’
And he reignited the argument last year, when Tasmania made it easier for people to change their birth certificates to their true gender. Folau responded by saying: ‘The devil has blinded so many people in this world. Repent and turn away from your evil ways.’
He even claimed the Australian bushfires were God’s judgement on the country for allowing same-sex marriage.
As a result, both national team Rugby Australia and local club New South Wales Waratahs sacked him last year.
Enter the Catalans Dragons
But now Folau is back. France-based RFL Super League team Catalans Dragons has given him a one year contract.
And many across rugby league are angry about the Rugby Football League’s decision to sanction the Catalans Dragons deal. They are also disappointed the league didn’t give them advanced notice, given how controversial Folau is.
Wigan Warriors, based in northwest England, is one club that has already responded. They said they would name their game against Catalans on 22 March ‘Pride Day’ to support the LGBT+ community.
The Catalans Dragons are based in France and play home matches in Barcelona, Spain. But 10 out of 12 Super League teams are based in the UK. That means Folau will be playing much of the season in Britain.
Will Folau change?
RFL defended its decision not to block the move in a statement.
It said: ‘This is a difficult decision, as the RFL places a high value on the sport’s reputation in prioritising inclusion and diversity – and deplores the player’s previous comments.
‘However, the moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs.
‘The player has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence. However distasteful his previous comments, we don’t believe that, under our current regulatory framework, these can prevent his participation in the sport.’
Meanwhile Super League chief executive, Robert Elstone, has said he can’t block the deal. However, he did say he had told the Catalans Dragons he is disappointed.
And he said that if Folau makes similar comments again, it would mean Folau’s contract was ‘terminated immediately’. Moreover, the Catalans also face a ‘substantial fine’ if Folau breaches ‘strict guidelines’.
So it’s just possible that will prevent further homophobic and transphobic outbursts by the player.
Folau 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.’