Source: Getty Images
The opening round of the 2020 Super League season is upon us and the build up to the 2020 season has been an exciting time for rugby league fans. The Toronto Wolfpack will enter the competition for the first time and they bring Sonny Bill Williams with them.
Of course Williams will not be the only high-profile signing coming to the league. George Burgess, Gareth Widdop, and James Maloney all join Williams as names highlight the list of new recruits to Super League. A new team entering the competition for the first time and a host of elite talent joining the league have given rugby league fans plenty to look forward too.
Unfortunately, the Catalans Dragons decided to put a damper on all the excitement by announcing the signing of Israel Folau and immediately became the most hated team across all codes of rugby. An argument can be made that Folau is one of the most talented rugby players in the world. However, that talent does not make up for him being an absolutely terrible person and a public relations nightmare.
To put it simply; Folau is extremely homophobic. He also has no problem expressing how homophobic he is. A series of homophobic social media posts led to Rugby Australia terminating his contract back in May. Rugby Australia referred to Folau’s actions as a “high-level breach” of their code of conduct.
Folau then responded with legal action claiming that his contract was terminated for his Christian beliefs. Folau even decided that he needed help with his legal fees and had a GoFundMe page set up, because the highest paid rugby player in the world apparently can’t afford a lawyer.
The crazy thing is that people actually did donate to it before GoFundMe took the page down.
Ultimately, instead of apologizing or admitting any wrongdoing for the posts he doubled down on it and fought his contract termination. To this day, none of his homophobic social media posts have been deleted.
Eventually, Folau and Rugby Australia reached a settlement, but he was essentially barred from rugby union as no one wanted any part of signing him. Additionally, Chairman of the Australian Rugby League council Peter V’Landys publicly stated that Folau would not be welcome in the NRL if he decided to try to switch codes.
Since then, Folau’s social media activity has died down a lot, but all the posts remain up. However, Folau has continued his homophobic rhetoric. In a sermon at a Sydney church (because someone thought it was a good idea to give him a microphone), Folau blamed the LBGTQ community, same-sex marriage, and abortions for causing the bushfires that are currently devastating Australia. Despite being basically removed from a sport, Folau continues to share the homophobic beliefs that got his contract terminated in the first place.
This is why I am so perplexed as to why the Dragons would want to sign him. Folau has not shown any remorse for his actions and neither Super Rugby or the NRL wanted anything to do with the PR nightmare that would come with signing Folau. So why would Catalans?
It’s made even worse because Catalans knew what a nightmare this signing would be, still signed him, and then addressed Folau’s homophobia in the official press release. Chairman Bernard Guasch stated that the Dragons do not support Folau’s views or condone his actions. Well Bernard, the best way to show that you don’t support his views or condone his actions is to NOT SIGN HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE!
The signing has been met with plenty of deserved backlash and criticism. Rugby (all codes) is a sport that prides itself on being an inclusive and welcoming community for all. Signing Folau goes completely against the values of the game. The RFL and the other Super League clubs have expressed their outrage to Catalans over the signing. The RFL even felt the need to put out a statement addressing the signing. That is how bad the signing is. The league needs to do damage control.
Of course, the statement did not condone the signing of Folau and made sure to shift the blame completely on Catalans by saying “the moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs.” The process of the league and the Dragons immediately initiating some damage control procedure is a true testament to how terrible it is to have this player in your league.
Why you would want such an awful person on your club is mind boggling to me. For a sport that values inclusivity, this signing is a huge black mark.
Reaction poured in from around the rugby league world. One player to weigh in was Halifax prop Keegan Hirst. In 2015 Hirst became the first openly gay British rugby league player. Hirst put out a series of tweets condemning the signing. Perhaps, the best reaction to the signing came from the Wigan Warriors. Shortly after the Folau signing was announced Wigan announced that their March 22nd match against Catalans will be Pride Day. Hopefully, other teams follow suit.
Ultimately, by singing Folau the Dragons have isolated a lot of rugby league fans. Through signing Folau, Catalans has become the most hated team in the rugby league, and they deserve every ounce of the backlash and criticism for this horrendous decision.