XIII rugby: controversial Israel Folau joins Catalan dragons

A prolific test marker, Israel Folau arrives in France surrounded by controversy.
A prolific test marker, Israel Folau arrives in France surrounded by controversy. Paul Childs / Action Images via Reuters

It’s not Saint Michael, but the Catalan Dragons aspire to become the promised land of Israel Folau. The controversial former Australian international, banned by his federation from the national rugby union team for homophobic remarks in spring 2019, joined the Perpignan rugby club for a year, the Catalan Dragons announced on Tuesday January 28 in a communicated. A great blow for the Catalan team, entered in the English Super League for lack of hexagonal rivals.

Fervent Christian evangelical, the best scorer in the history of Super rugby – a championship comprising fifteen teams from New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Japan and South Africa – had hit the headlines in April 2019 after the publication of a message on Instagram : "Drunkards, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters, Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus can save you. "

The player had already opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in his country, adopted in late 2017 by the Parliament. His writings fractured the Australian national team, between players who shared the Gospel faith of the then star of the Wallabies, often born in the Pacific Islands (about a third of the workforce) and the others.

The Australian federation then decided to terminate the contract of Israel Folau, preventing him from taking part in the 2019 World Cup. What the player had disputed, attacking Rugby Australia in court for "Unfair dismissal".

"These kinds of words should not be expressed publicly"

Banned from the mainland – where the rugby federation had refused his return -, Israel Folau arrives in France, while the Super League resumes the weekend of February 1 and 2.

The Perpignan team, the only French representative in the Super League, the English league, signs a resounding blow by signing this prolific test marker (37 in 73 test matches in the Australian jersey). "We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch", said Bernard Guasch, president of the club.

Stressing that this recruitment in no way means that the club "Share or tolerate opinions", and recalling the attachment that "Our club and our sport are open and welcoming for everyone", Bernard Guasch warns that the slightest recurrence will result in the immediate termination of the contract: "This kind of remarks should not be expressed publicly, in particular by a high level sportsman". In this case, a fine would also be imposed on the club by the English League.

Israel Folau never regretted his words. if "Comprises" opinions expressed by the australian federation, the 30-year-old defends his freedom of expression. "I am a proud Christian, my beliefs are personal, I never intended to hurt anyone and I will not make any public comments on this any more", he specifies in the press release of the Catalan club.

Away from the field since April 2019, the triple "best player of the year" of the Wallabies (in 2014, 2015 and 2017) aspires to find the lawns. "I look forward to my return to the fantastic sport of rugby league", concludes the one who made his debut there, at the age of 17 before going to the XV in 2013.

If they don't spit fire this year, the Catalan Dragons could smell like sulfur.