Super League does not get going again until Thursday, but once more Israel Folau is driving headlines, causing controversy and generally being a nuisance to the sport he now calls home.
The ex-Wallabies international in union will soon be turning out for Catalan Dragons, in a move to the South of France characteristic of the kind of unlikable individual who always ends up doing well for themselves that he is.
The move is already kicking up controversy within Super League and beyond. The league grants its clubs the prerogative in issues like this apparently, and it appears Catalan have deemed Folau’s homophobic past insufficiently dastardly to disqualify him from employment.
According to Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch, “We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch.” From the other side of things, Folau himself has stated “I acknowledge the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football League. I’m a proud Christian, 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.”
All this reeks of eased rehabilitation into a sport Folau left a decade ago, only to come crawling back to when the chips were down. This is about money and success, not morals, let us make that clear.
However, the controversy has arisen from Wigan Warriors response to the signing, with the club choosing to rename their game against the Dragons on the 22nd of March ‘Pride Day,’ when the club will celebrate its LGBT+ community and the players will where rainbow laces and socks. This is a direct challenge to Folau, and his presence in the game, and good on Wigan for making it.
“Here at Wigan Warriors we are committed to the core values of inclusion and respect,” Wigan executive director Kris Radlinski said,“our community foundation have a long history of supporting local LGBTQ+ groups and initiatives and we want everyone who engages with our game to feel welcome, valued and most of all, respected.”
“Rugby league has a strong history of inclusion, of breaking down barriers and of being a forward-thinking sport. I think that today more than any day that it is vitally important we reiterate that message. We’re looking forward to working with charities, local and hopefully national groups, to make this day a success.”
Wigan are choosing to make their stand, Dragons have made Folau their hill to die on, it all feels so repetitive. The man seems to have a near-supernatural power to drag the news cycle with him wherever he goes, sucking it into a discursive vortex of homophobia and tolerance, sacking and hiring, freedom and protection, religion and rights, swallowing up all around it.
Whether he will be good for Super League, who knows. One thing is for sure though, we’re certainly going to hear all about it.