Israel Folau finalises return to rugby league
Catalans Dragons have announced the signing of former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau.
The 30-year-old dual international, who has not played since being sacked by Rugby Australia for making homophobic comments on social media, has signed a one-year contract with the French-based Super League club.
The 73-Test Wallaby secured a confidential multimillion-dollar payout from Rugby Australia following an eight-month legal saga. With Folau's options at home all but exhausted, he has been linked with several franchises including a New York team that wants to play in the Super League.
The triple-code superstar commented on Catalans website following the announcement. "I acknowledge the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football League," the statement read. "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."
But the move has not been met with all-round approval. Super League CEO Robert Elstone admits he's disappointed by Catalans' decision but said legally there was little he could do to prevent it.
"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.
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"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.
"Israel Folau is a free agent, who has the right to work, and he has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.
"Catalans Dragons has assured Super League that strict guidelines are in place to prevent the player from repeating his comments.
"They have also assured us that his contract will be terminated immediately should he do so."
A statement by the Rugby Football League echoed Elstone's concerns but said it is the decision of clubs to decide who they sign.
"The RFL places a high value on the sport's reputation in prioritising Inclusion and Diversity - and deplores the player's previous comments," the statement read.
"However, the moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs.
"The player has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.
"However distasteful his previous comments, we don't believe that, under our current regulatory framework, these can prevent his participation in the sport."
Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said: "We want to give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch. We do not support or agree with Israel's previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief.
"We do not share or condone those views and we are totally committed to our club and our sport being open and welcoming to everyone. We do not believe that those views should be publicly expressed, especially by a high-profile sports person.
"We have a signed agreement with the RFL. Any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of Israel's contract and a substantial fine for the club."
Folau racked up 37 tries in 73 Tests appearances for the Wallabies but it was rugby league that launched him to superstar status.
Before a brief and unsuccessful stint in AFL with GWS Giants, Folau played close to 100 games for the Storm and Broncos, while also representing his state and country.