Israel Folau training with Catalan Dragons

Unless you’re not a rugby fan or you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you may be aware that Israel Folau, the unashamed homophobe-and-proud, has a new rugby team. The man that stated his belief that members of the LGBTQ+ community, namely homosexual people, will go to “Hell…Unless they repent of their sins and turn to god” and “WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolators HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES,” will once again be a professional rugby player. In 2020. Let that sink in a bit.

Folau, 30, is a phenomenal rugby player. He’s capable of being at the top table of players, regardless of code, so, his signing for the Catalan Dragons may have came as a shock to many rugby fans across the globe, not just because, with all respect to Catalan, he’s signing for a club without a single Super League championship under their belt. The majority of the shock factor though is undoubtedly the fact that anyone signed him at all, after all, unless you’re still living under that big rock, there is no way anyone involved in a professional rugby association, Union or League, isn’t aware of the controversy this player is going to attract. That, and theres no way anyone within their right mind could possibly share the views of the man who’s most recent controversial remarks included linking the recent devastating bushfires in his native Australia to being some sort of holy retribution for Australian backing of same-sex marriage laws.

Since the controversial signing was announced at the tail end of January, Super League clubs have agreed on new rules (more of a ‘Gentleman’s agreement’) that would allow certain signings to be vetoed in the future, in order to avoid such unpopular and controversial players such as Folau effectively reviving their careers in the premier rugby league competition in the Northern Hemisphere. 

So, Wigan’s decision to change the date of their Super League fixture against Folau’s new team to ‘pride day’, whereby Wigan’s players will adorn socks with the rainbow design of the pride flag, as well as wearing rainbow laces and inviting local and national pride groups to the game to be part of the occasion has been pretty well received by most. It sends a powerful message of solidarity with the community directly affected and hindered by the views of people such as Israel Folau, whilst also acting as a reminder that a sour reputation follows you like a bad smell, regardless of how far across the globe you travel to escape it. 

Indeed, when his preaching/verbal diarrhea first started causing controversy in his native country, it led to a debate surrounding what is free speech and what is hate speech. Make no mistake, there are plenty of people in the world that practice their respective faiths without bigotry or hate towards anyone, regardless of sexuality, gender race etc. This is also not an article with the intention of condemning religion, I’ll leave that to someone a lot more qualified than I. I’m more interested in establishing exactly at what point someone can talk themselves out of a life which is, make no mistake, a dream to millions. Should you still be allowed to be a professional athlete when you spark such levels of controversy with what is viewed by many as hate speech? If the answers no, then who else shouldn’t be allowed to play? Players with criminal records and the like?

This is a signing that should be raising many questions and sparking a debate to answer them. At its core, it boils down to this. Who draws the line on who’s allowed to play and is anyone with the power to make those decisions really any holier than thou?