Super League's first openly gay player is shocked at the decision of the Rugby Football League (RFL) to allow Catalans Dragons to sign Israel Folau.
Wakefield Trinity prop Keegan Hirst says he's disappointed at Folau's signing, which follows his sacking by Rugby Australia last year for homophobic comments. "Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in," Hirst posted on Twitter. "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 Dragons say Folau's contract would be immediately terminated if the former Wallabies star made further homophobic comments. Folau's deal was largely greeted with outrage by the British rugby league community but Super League chief executive officer Robert Elstone said his organisation couldn't prevent it.
Elstone said Super League "deplores the homophobic comments" made by Folau. "There is a strong feeling that the decision to sign him lets down many people connected to our sport ... however Super League does not have the authority to veto the registration of players," Elstone said.
"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 by Rugby Australia (RA) last May. The two parties agreed an out-of-court settlement in December after Folau sued RA for religious discrimination. Last October, Australian Rugby League commission chairman Peter V'landys supported the commission's decision to rule out any possible return of Folau to league in Australia. "The game is inclusive. The comments of Israel are not inclusive," V'Landys said when appointed chairman.
"I am not in any which way reversing or looking at the decision of Israel Folau." The RFL said moral responsibility for signing a player lay with individual clubs, given Folau had has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence. Folau 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." Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said his club wanted to give Folau a new opportunity but doesn'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."
Hours after news Folau's signing, Wigan announced their home match against Catalans on March 22 would be Pride Day, supporting the local LGBT community.
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