Israel Folau will resume his rugby career in the league format of the game after signing for Super League outfit Catalans Dragons on a one-year deal.
Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia last year after being found guilty of committing a high-level breach of the organisation’s Code of Conduct after posting a series of controversial social media posts that declared homosexuals, along with drunks, fornicators and adulterers, among others, would go to hell unless they repented.
“I acknowledge the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football League I’m a proud Christian,” Folau said after confirming his move. “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.”
Last month, Folau and Rugby Australia reached a confidential out of court settlement after the former Wallaby sued the organisation for wrongful dismissal. Both parties apologised to each other in a public statement, acknowledging the damage they had done one another.
Folau earned 62 Test caps for the Wallabies in a six-year international career before his sacking, but he will now resume his playing career in France in rugby league with the Dragons, who were in desperate need of a centre ahead of the start of the Super League season on Thursday.
In confirming the move for Folau, Catalans Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said Folau’s contract would be terminated if Folau made any further controversial comments and that the club have agreed to pay a significant fine should he do so.
“We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch, Guasch said. “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.”
Super League chairman Robert Elstone said in a statement he was “disappointed” Catalans Dragons have decided to sign Folau, and that the league did not have the power to block the move.
“Super League deplores the homophobic comments Israel Folau has made in the past, which squarely contradict our sport’s core values,” Elstone said.
“I have sought the opinion of informed voices connected to our game, and the majority share my disappointment that one of our clubs has chosen to sign him. There is a strong feeling that the decision to sign him lets down many people connected to our sport.
“I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views. However, Super League does not have the authority to veto the registration of players and is satisfied by the due diligence carried out by The Rugby Football League.
“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 began his career in rugby league, playing in the NRL, making his debut at the age of 17, breaking the record for the most tries in a debut year in the league. He went on to score 73 tries in 91 NRL games over four years while also earning eight caps for Australia’s rugby league side. He then had a two-year spell playing Aussie-Rules in the AFL before switching to rugby union.
Following the Rugby World Cup last year, All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams also made a high-profile switch to Super League, joining newly-promoted franchise Totonto Wolfpack on a two-year deal worth a record $10 million.