Israel Folau (Pic: www.davidmolloyphotography.com)
French rugby league club Catalans Dragons is under fire after it signed a one year contract with disgraced homophobe Israel Folau.
Catalans Dragons Chairman, Bernard Guasch said that the club wanted “to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch.”
He also stated that “We do not support or agree with Israel’s previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief.”
Guasch added, “We do not believe that those views should be publicly expressed, especially by a high-profile sports person” and noted that “any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of Israel’s contract and a substantial fine for the club.”
Folau indicated that he’d agreed to stop making homophobic statements to get the job, commenting: “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.”
In May last year, Folau’s multimillion-dollar contract with Rugby Australia (RA) was terminated for violating the organisation’s social media policy and values after he posted a series of homophobic comments on social media condemning homosexuals to hell. He also later described transgender-affirming legislation as “evil”.
Folau refused to apologise or retract the comments and sued RA for A$14m ($9.5m) in damages, claiming that his rights had been infringed. In December, it was announced that he and RA had settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount and had apologised to each other.
English club Wigan Warriors, who will play against Catalans on 22 March, responded to the news of Folau’s signing by naming the match day a “Pride Day” in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
The game will see the club’s players wear rainbow socks and laces. The Warriors have also invited LGBTQ+ groups to participate in the day.
“Here at Wigan Warriors we are committed to the core values of Inclusion and Respect,” said Executive Director, Kris Radlinski. “Our community foundation have a long history of supporting local LGBTQ+ groups and initiatives, and we want everyone who engages with our game to feel welcome, valued and most of all, respected.”
Openly gay English rugby league prop Keegan Hirst wrote on Twitter that he was “shocked and disappointed” at Folau’s signing, stating: “Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in. It shows none of the bravery, camaraderie or integrity @rfl [the governing Rugby Football League] expects from its players, staff and fans.”
After he was fired, Folau continued to express homophobic sentiments such as suggesting that Australia’s bushfires and droughts are God’s punishments for the country legalising same-sex marriage.