The Folau Follies Continue As Homophobic Aussie Signs with French Rugby Team

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 29, 2020

He's ba-a-a-ack!

Those who thought Israel Folau had finally faded away after settling for an undisclosed sum with Rugby Australia following his unceremonious firing last year were in for a surprise - as indeed all of rugby was - when French team Catalans Dragons signed him to a one-year contract - without, that is, consulting any other teams in the sport.

Sparks promptly flew, reports UK newspaper The Guardian.

The Australian rugby star was riding high when he burned down his own career by refusing to refrain from posting anti-LGBTQ messages on social media in defiance of the code of this team and the sport itself - conduct that led to his being found in "high breach" of his $4 million contract, and ultimately led to the cancellation of that contract.

What followed was a drawn-out push and pull as Folau sued Rugby Australia and appealed to religious conservatives, saying that he was being "persecuted" for the anti-gay tenets of his Christian faith. Rugby Australia maintained that Folau - like any other player under contract - was expected to abide by the rules set down for conduct and social media use.

News of Folau's signing by Catalans prompted an outcry. In an opinion piece at Fox Sports, Australian sports journalist George Clarke called the signing "a shock to the system" and "a kick in the balls for the very principles the game was built upon."

Clarke added, "It is a game which... has always said we don't give a hoot where you're from, what color your skin is or whether you like waking up next to men or women. If you're good enough you're welcome."

In taking the gig, Folau has crossed from rugby union to rugby league, two prongs of the sport with distinct styles sport that resulted from a late 19th-century split. Even though a rugby league team hired Folau, league officials warned that any future repetition of the conduct the got Folau sacked from his rugby union team would see the player out on his ear in short order, reported the BBC.

Openly gay British rugger and league player Keegan Hirst took to social media himself to blast the signing. Tweeted Hirst:

"Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in. It shows none of the bravery, camaraderie or integrity RFL expects from its players, staff and fans."

In his time away from the field, Folau tried dipping his toes into the fount of homophobic preaching, delivering gay-bashing sermons at his church.

In one fiery sermon from November, Folau made the claim that Australia's committed same-sex families were the reason for severe brush fires that the country has recently suffered.

Calling the blazes a "little taste of God's judgment," Folau told churchgoers that the disaster was not a "coincidence," but rather God's way of lashing out at the country over the legalization of marriage equality. Folau told his audience that Australia needed to "repent" and "take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God."

Folau's seizing on the natural disaster drew sharp critiques from leaders and ordinary citizens alike. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, told the media that the former star's remarks were "appalling."

As news of Folau's hiring shook the rugby world, the Wigan Warriors, who are scheduled to play the Catalans Dragons in March, took action: The team has declared the upcoming match a "Pride Day" and issued invitations of LGBTQ organizations to be on hand, media sources reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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