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‘Anti-gay’ rugby star Israel Folau to play for country where homosexuality is illegal

Nick Duffy September 23, 2019
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 21: Israel Folau of the Wallabies is tackled during the Bledisloe Cup match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Getty)

After being sacked from Australia’s rugby team for anti-LGBT comments, Israel Folau will instead play for Tonga, where it’s illegal to be gay.

The player was sacked by Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs in May over social media posts telling  gay people that “hell awaits” them, and has subsequently delivered anti-LGBT+ sermons blaming the devil for transgender children.

However, it was announced on Monday that the player will make a switch from rugby union to play for Tonga’s national rugby league team.

Tonga National Rugby League welcomed Folau with open arms, which is perhaps unsurprising, given homosexuality is technically punishable by ten years in prison in the country.

Israel Folau says he will ‘represent God’ on national Tonga team

In a statement, Folau said: “I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to represent God, my family, my heritage and the people of Tonga.”

The player, who is still pursuing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Rugby Australia, added: “I don’t want to bring any of my personal matters into this… what I will do now is focus on playing great rugby league and do my talking on the field.”

Israel Folau arrives ahead of his conciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.
Israel Folau arrives ahead of his conciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Don Arnold/Getty)

Folau, whose parents are from Tonga, will be joined by brother John Folau on the national team, which ironically has an upcoming fixture against Australia.

Head coach of the Tongan national team Frank Endacott said: “This is great news. These guys are great footballers and bring size, pace and skill to the team.

“They will make a huge impact in the team and provide exciting attack options all over the park.

“This will be great boost to the internationals, and I can’t wait to see the crowd support that this will generate from our famous Mate Ma’a Tonga supporters.”

Appointment met with international resistance.

However, NRL.com reports that Rugby League International Federation board members will attempt to veto the move at an upcoming meeting.

Although the statement from the Tongan team suggested the appointment already had approval from the RLIF, the organisation’s deputy chair Peter Beattie made clear: “The RLIF has made no decision in relation to any registration request for Israel Folau.

“As a current member and deputy chair of the RLIF board… I can assure you that this has never been discussed or mentioned around the board table.”

More: israel folau, Rugby, rugby league, rugby union

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