The Perpignan-based Catalan Dragons rugby club, which plays some of its home matches in Barcelona’s Camp Nou football stadium, has signed controversial Australian rugby star Israel Folau, who last year was sacked from the New South Wales Waratahs and barred from playing in Australia for homophobic comments.
The Rugby Football League gave the green light to the Dragons’ signing of Folau to a one-year contract after the rugby star reached an out-of-court settlement in Australia over his sacking for social media posts saying that “hell awaits” gay people and claiming in a sermon that the born-again Christian gave that a long drought and catastrophic bushfires that have swept Australia were a “little taste of God’s judgement” for Australia’s same-sex marriage and abortion laws.
The Super-League Catalan Dragons are based in France’s Pyrenees Occidental region, known as Catalunya Nord to staunch Catalan nationalists in Spain, and the club has a strong fan base among Catalans living on both sides of the French-Spanish border. Their calendar of “home” matches includes rugby contests at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, home to the Barcelona FC football club, where last year the Dragons attracted a Super League regular season record crowd of 31,555 in a match against the UK’s Wigan Warriors.
Super League Executive Chairman Robert Elstone told British broadcaster ITV News that the signing of Folau “lets down many people” in the sport. “Super League deplores the homophobic comments Israel Folau has made in the past, which squarely contradict our sport’s core values,” Elstone told ITV.
The Wigan Warriors responded to the news of Folau’s signing with a statement, designating their upcoming match on home turf against the Catalan Dragons on 22nd March as “Pride Day” to show their support for the LGBT+ community. During the match, Wigan Warriors’ players will wear rainbow-coloured spcks and shoe-laces to demonstrate the clubs commitment to inclusion and respect.
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