Outrage after Israel Folau signs contract with French rugby league team

A file photo dated 24 Nov 2018 of Israel Folau, playing for the Wallabies. Source: AAP

The signing of Israel Folau by French rugby league team Catalans Dragon has prompted widespread criticism.

The Super League's first openly gay player has slammed the decision of the Rugby Football League to allow Catalans Dragons to sign Israel 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 for homophobic comments he made on Instagram.

"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."

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 with Super League CEO Robert Elstone admitting he was disappointed at the signing but conceded there was little he could do to prevent it.

Israel Folau signs contract with French rugby league team
Israel Folau signs contract with French rugby league team

"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."

Hours after news of Folau's signing, Wigan Warriors announced their home match against Catalans on 22 March would be Pride Day which will support the local LGBT community.

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 the moral responsibility for signing a player lies 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," said Folau.

"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."

Israel Folau celebrates during the 2018 Rugby Union Championship.
Israel Folau celebrates during the 2018 Rugby Union Championship.

Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said his club wanted to give Folau a new opportunity but don't 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."

The Super League is the top-level professional rugby league club competition in the Northern Hemisphere.

The league has ten teams from England, and one each from France and Canada.

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