Israel Folau: Gay Halifax player Keegan Hirst criticises Catalans Dragons signing
Keegan Hirst feels Catalans are "willing to park their values for a few extra tries a year"; Stonewall and Pride Sports UK encouraged by RFL's work on LGBT+ inclusion
Last Updated: 28/01/20 9:31pm
Britain's only out professional gay rugby league player Keegan Hirst says he is "shocked and disappointed" by the Catalans Dragons' signing of former Australia rugby union player Israel Folau.
Folau, who was sacked last May by Rugby Australia following anti-LGBT posts on social media, signed on a one-year contract with the Super League side on Tuesday.
The Rugby Football League said it had faced a "difficult decision" but confirmed Folau's registration with the Dragons will not be prevented, leading Halifax prop Hirst to condemn the move.
I’m shocked and disappointed at the signing of @IzzyFolau. 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, cameraderie or integrity @rfl expects from its players, staff and fans— Keegan Hirst (@KeeganHirst) January 28, 2020
"There's a bit of anger, disappointment and shock," Hirst told Sky Sports News.
"It's gone against everything Rugby League stands for, prides itself on and expects of its players and fans. This signing has undermined and alienated all of those people."
Just FYI, this has nothing to do with beliefs. It has everything to do with homophobia.— Keegan Hirst (@KeeganHirst) January 28, 2020
There are millions of people practicing their religion who are not homophobic.
Prejudice is prejudice and using religion, political beliefs or anything else to justify it is not ok.
Hirst, who plays in the second-tier Championship, confirmed Super League had been in contact with him prior to the announcement being made.
He said: "I spoke to Super League over the weekend who were against it, they didn't want it to go ahead and they let me know that was the case.
"It turns out they don't have the powers to do anything which is worrying. That's the card the RFL has played which I don't necessarily agree with.
"They talk about bringing the game into disrepute, and I think we can safely say if his comments had been made when playing he certainly would have done that.
"This is a guy who was rejected by the AFL and NRL. Catalan Dragons are saying come on over, they either don't care about what he's said or they do care but are willing to park their values for a few extra tries a year."
Folau reached a settlement with Rugby Australia in December having sued for £7.4m on the grounds of religious discrimination.
In a statement explaining their decision to allow Folau's registration, the RFL said: "However distasteful his previous comments, we don't believe that, under our current regulatory framework, these can prevent his participation in the sport."
Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone has criticised the signing, and revealed he "made Catalans Dragons aware of those views" before the deal was completed.
"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."
Shortly after Folau's signing was confirmed, fellow Super League side Wigan Warriors announced their game against Catalans Dragons on March 22 would be 'Pride Day' as the Warriors "look to support the LGBTQ+ community".
View this post on Instagram
🏳️🌈 Wigan Warriors can confirm that their round six game against Catalans Dragons on Sunday 22nd March will now be Pride Day, as the Warriors look to support the LGBTQ+ community. . 🏳️🌈 The game against the Dragons will see the Club’s players wear Rainbow socks, provided by kit suppliers hummel, and the players will wear Rainbow Laces for the game with the Club also inviting LGBTQ+ groups, both locally and nationally, to be part of the day. . 💬 Wigan Warriors executive director, Kris Radlinski: “Here at Wigan Warriors we are committed to the core values of Inclusion and Respect. 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 an 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.” . ℹ️ The Warriors will announce activities and promotions of the Pride Round clash against the Catalans Dragons in the upcoming weeks. . 👉 For any groups who would want to support Pride Day at Wigan Warriors are invited to send their details to firstname.lastname@example.org . #WWRL #WiganPride #LGBTQ
"Here at Wigan Warriors, we are committed to the core values of inclusion and respect," Wigan Warriors 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."
Robbie de Santos of LGBT equality charity Stonewall said: "Our Rainbow Laces campaign is dedicated to changing attitudes so that sport is inclusive of all. To help us in that mission, we need role models from all sports to speak up for equality and challenge prejudice.
"Folau's remarks also perpetuate a myth that faith and LGBT inclusion cannot coexist. Faith is a big part of many LGBT people's lives, and acceptance as part of a faith community can be incredibly powerful. We hope Folau reflects seriously on this.
"It's encouraging that the Rugby Football League has spoken out about the importance of inclusion and tackling offensive comments in sport. The more players, fans, clubs and organisations that stand up for equality in sport and society, the sooner we kick discrimination out and make sport everyone's game."
The RFL is a supporter of Pride Sports, a UK organisation working to challenge LGBT+phobia in sports. Louise Englefield, director of Pride Sports, told Sky Sports News: "I'm really quite disappointed with the signing of Israel Folau.
"He's made his stand with his relationship with lesbian, gay, bi and trans people. He's made his opinions very clear and I don't think those are in keeping with the ethos of rugby league.
"The RFL has done some fantastic work in this area - for example, it was one of the first national governing bodies to sign the government charter on homophobia and transphobia.
"I personally see this as a backwards step for the sport."