Australian rugby player Israel Folau, whose contract was terminated by Rugby Australia in May over repeated anti-LGBTQ remarks made on social media, has signed with French club Catalan Dragons of the Super League, the team announced Tuesday.
Almost immediately, fellow Super League club Wigan Warriors announced that its March 22 match against the Dragons would be Pride Day. The announcement was made less than 20 minutes after Folau’s signing was announced.
Warriors players will wear rainbow socks and shoe laces. The club is also inviting LGBTQ groups to attend the game.
“Here at Wigan Warriors we are committed to the core values of Inclusion and Respect,” Wigan Warriors executive director Kris Radlinski said in a statement. “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. 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.”
Folau, 30, was one of the top players on the Australian national team and the NSW Waratahs. He signed a four-year contract with Rugby Australia in March that was reportedly worth $4 million AUD (roughly $2.75 million USD). Rugby Australia began the process of terminating the contract in April after a series of offensive social media posts. In one, he said “hell awaits” gay people. He also posted an image warning “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” that “hell awaits you” and added a caption that read, “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” Folau made similar comments in 2018.
Folau’s new team is confident his views will not be an issue going forward.
“We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch,” Catalan Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said in a statement. “We do not support or agree with Israel’s previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief. We do not share or condone those views and we are totally committed to our club and our sport being open and welcoming to everyone. We do not believe that those views should be publicly expressed, especially by a high-profile sports person. 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.”
Folau, meanwhile, is eager to put the issue behind him.
“I acknowledge the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football League,” Folau said in a statement. “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.”