Israel Folau still not allowed to express his beliefs

29 January 2020

Sacked Australia rugby union player, Israel Folau, has been signed to the French Super League club Catalans Dragons. However, the new signing has renewed criticism of the player over his previous comments on social media, which warned various sinners to repent from their sin, among them homosexuals.

Labelled as ‘homophobic’

Folau was sacked in April 2019 after he posted a call for people to repent on Instagram, based on verses from the Bible.

The post had led to extreme criticism in the media and from other players, with many labelling him ‘homophobic’.

After swift disciplinary proceedings, Folau was sacked from Rugby Australia and issued with a formal warning from the Rugby Football Union (RFU). With crowdfunding support, he mounted a legal challenge that led to an out-of-court settlement.

Now, nine months later, Folau continues to be criticised for his beliefs. Reporting on his move to Catalans Dragons, mainstream media – among them the BBCThe Guardian and The Sun– have all continued to label his comments ‘homophobic’.

Warned not to express his beliefs

Folau’s move to rugby league was made possible because he was not sacked by the RFU, only issued with a warning. However, the Rugby Football League (RFL) have had to respond to criticism of the player’s new signing, saying they do not have the “regulatory framework” to stop Folau from joining the Catalans and therefore could not “prevent his participation in the sport.”

The RFL continued: “The moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player sits with individual clubs.

“We have sought and received reassurances from both the player and the club regarding future behaviour.”

Folau himself has also reassured his critics that he will not make any further comment: “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.”

Yet warnings have still been issued that Folau is not free to express his beliefs. Super League chief executive chairman, Robert Elstone, said that “strict guidelines are in place” to prevent Folau from making any similar comments in future. He continued by saying that a repeat would result in the player’s contract with Catalans being “terminated immediately”, with Catalans also facing a “substantial fine” if Folau was to do so.

Wigan Warriors announce Pride Day

Elstone continued, saying: “There is a strong feeling that the decision to sign him lets down many people connected to our sport.”

In fact, news of the deal came shortly after an announcement by Wigan Warriors that their match against Catalans on 22 March will now be ‘Pride Day’. The Wigan club has said that in opposition to Folau’s signing, it will now being looking to support the LGBTQ+ community.”

‘Standing up for free speech’

Tim Dieppe commented: “Catalans Dragons have hired a very good player and are standing up for free speech by signing Israel Folau. Folau is not spreading a message of hatred, he is not the one discriminating or being intolerant. His original message, although provocative, was a message of love, redemption and salvation. Others who are saying that he should not be allowed to play rugby are the ones being intolerant. People should not be vilified for expressing their beliefs or their religion. There must be room within all sports for people to hold and express their views, even if that clashes with LGBT ideology.”

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