By Andy Hayes, news reporter
Disgraced rugby star Israel Folau has signed for Catalans Dragons, months after being sacked from his previous club over comments about gay people.
The French Super League club said they were pleased to sign him on a one-year contract with “immediate effect” and wanted to “give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch”.
Folau posted on social media last April that “hell awaits” for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters”.
Image: Folau said ‘hell awaits’ homosexuals and other groups
He told the Catalans website: “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.”
Wigan Warriors greeted his new contract by saying their game against Catalans on 22 March would be a “pride day”, during which their players will wear rainbow laces.
Halifax’s openly gay forward, Keegan Hirst, said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the signing.
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And Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone said there was a “strong feeling” that the signing “lets down many people connected to our sport”, adding: “I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views.”
Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said the club did “not support or agree with Israel’s previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief”.
He added: “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 (Rugby Football League). Any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of Israel’s contract and a substantial fine for the club.”
Image: Catalans say they wanted to ‘give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch’
The RFL said it was a “difficult decision” because it “deplores” Folau’s earlier remarks.
But it added that the “moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs”, adding that Folau had “not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence”.
It continued: “However distasteful his previous comments, we don’t believe that, under our current regulatory framework, these can prevent his participation in the sport.
“We have sought and received reassurances from both the player and the club regarding future behaviour.”
Folau’s $5m (£2.7m) contract with the Wallabies and the Sydney-based New South Wales Waratahs was terminated in May.
In November, he linked bushfires in New South Wales and drought to Australia’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion.
The 30-year-old, delivering a sermon at the Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Sydney, said “God is speaking” to Australians and called for the laws to be reversed.
Image: Folau had his contract with Rugby Australia terminated in May
He said: “God’s word says for a man and a woman to be together, one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage to be together.
“Abortion; it’s now OK to murder and kill unborn children and they deem that to be OK.”
After being sacked, Folau brought an unfair dismissal case which was settled in December.
Rugby Australia said: “While it was not Rugby Australia’s intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus.
“Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused.”
Source : Sky News