Catalans Dragons’ planned public unveiling of new signing Israel Folau has reportedly been cancelled as the French club deals with the backlash to the controversial star.
Folau’s career in both rugby codes appeared over after he was sacked by Rugby Australia for hateful social media posts but it will be sensationally revived when he debuts for Catalans in the Super League, possible against Wakefield on Monday morning Australian time.
The decision to bring Folau out of sporting purgatory has been met with widespread criticism and frustration and a torrent of negative publicity seems to have influenced a subtle change in the way the club introduces him.
Folau signs with Catalans
Rather than having an open press conference, as initially planned, Catalans have chosen to shield Folau from the media by filming his unveiling ‘in house’ and distributing the video afterwards.
The change of mind was revealed by ITV sports editor Steve Scott, who delivered the news on Twitter, sarcastically concluding the post with: “Can’t think why…”
Had Catalans followed through with their plan to have a press conference, as is the convention when unveiling a big-name signing, Folau would almost certainly have been peppered with questions about his religious views, which have caused outrage in both hemispheres.
Keeping him away from press conferences will allow Folau to let his performances on the rugby league field do the talking for him, at least until the initial wave of publicity dies down.
Catalans have reportedly been taken aback by the negative reaction to Folau’s latest move and imposed a media lockout on queries involving the 30-year-old.
Dragons President Bernard Guasch said he did not support Folau’s anti-gay stance or previous comments but offered him an olive branch because he had already served his punishment by being banished from rugby union and rugby league in Australia.
“When we learned that Folau was on the market and that he was finished with the legal proceedings in Australia and he made his apologies to the rugby union authorities, I decided that we were going to recruit a rugby player,” Guasch said.
“I do not want to get into any controversy at all. I think the player has already paid for his comments since he was fired from the Waratahs and he was not able to play in the World Cup.”
Disquiet about Folau’s signing is widespread in the Super League with several prominent figures publicly denouncing the Australian’s arrival in the days after it was confirmed.
Super League chief executive Robert Elstone said: “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.”
Wigan Warriors responded to Folau’s signing by saying their game against Catalans on March 22 would be named Pride Day as the club looks to support the LGBTQ+ community.
The club Folau is likely to make his Catalans debut against went a step further, with Wakefield chief executive Michael Carter teeing off at the Super League for allowing the former Wallaby’s signing to happen.
“Personally, I do not think his signing should have been entertained whatsoever,” he said.
“There are many moral arguments saying he should be banned from every other sport, and I worry if Super League is now becoming a catch-all safety net for people who aren’t welcome elsewhere.
“His views are abhorrent in a modern world. His registration should have been refused – that is our club’s position on it. We have no time for the views he shares.”
The only current out gay rugby league player in Britain, Halifax prop Keegan Hirst, also voiced strong opposition to the signing of Folau.
Taking to Twitter, Hirst wrote: “I’m shocked and disappointed at the signing of Izzy Folau. 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 (Rugby Football League) expects from its players, staff and fans.”