Welsh rugby league legend Gareth Thomas has responded to the news that Israel Folau - who has made a habit of vocalising his homophobic views - has joined the Catalans Dragons, a French team which forms part of the Betfred Super League.
“Really upset by this as the game, players, and fans were so good to me,” Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, tweeted yesterday.
“All I hope is that as much as Folau wanted his right to speak, then players and fans alike are aloud [sic] their right to respond. I will never watch him.”
Thomas, who has become an advocate for people living with HIV since revealing his positive status last year, wasn't the only sportsperson expressing anger at the new signing.
Wakefield Trinity prop Keegan Hirst also described his shock and disappointment at the news.
"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."
Other teams in the Betfred Super League have used Folau's signing as an opportunity to reinforce their commitment to diversity and inclusion, with the Wigan Warriors confirming that their first home game against Catalans Dragons (Folau's team) on March 22nd will now be a special Pride match.
Kris Radlinski, Wigan Warriors executive director, said: “Here at Wigan Warriors we are committed to the core values of inclusion and respect.
“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."
He added: “Rugby League has a strong history of inclusion, of breaking down barriers and of being an forward-thinking sport. I think that today more than any day that it is vitally important we reiterate that message."
“We’re looking forward to working with charities, local and hopefully national groups, to make this day a success.”
The Pride game will see the club’s players rock rainbow socks and rainbow laces while playing.