Gareth Thomas leads boycott against disgraced Israel Folau playing rugby in the UK
Gareth Thomas said he is “really upset” by the signing of disgraced Australian rugby union player Israel Folau to the Super League’s Catalans Dragons.
Thomas said he was disappointed by the decision to welcome Folau into the league after he was sacked from both his former rugby union team and the Australian national team because of anti-LGBT+ comments.
Ten of the 12 Super League teams are UK-based, meaning that Folau will play the majority of his away matches in Britain.
The trailblazing hero said he was “really upset,” especially as “the game, players, and fans were so good” to him after he came out as gay in 2009.
“All I hope is that as much as Folau wanted his right to speak, then players and fans alike are aloud their right to respond,” he tweeted on January 29.
“I will never watch him.”
So Folau has joined the @SuperLeague .Really upset by this as the game, players, and fans were so good to me.All I hope is that as much as Folau wanted his right to speak, then players and fans alike are aloud their right to respond . I will never watch him??❤️
— Gareth Thomas (@gareththomas14) January 29, 2020
Israel Folau signing draws fierce criticism.
Folau’s return to rugby has provoked a fierce backlash from both the LGBT+ community and their allies in sport.
Wigan Warriors has announced that it will celebrate “Pride Day” on March 22, the day that its players will face off against Folau and the Catalans Dragons.
The Warriors will wear rainbow socks and laces for the match, with local LGBT+ groups invited to attend.
Wigan Warriors executive director Kris Radlinski said: “We are committed to the core values of inclusion and respect.
“Our community foundation have a long history of supporting local LGBTQ+ groups and initiatives, and we want everyone who engages with our game to feel welcome, valued and most of all, respected.
“Rugby League has a strong history of inclusion, of breaking down barriers and of being a forward-thinking sport. I think that today more than any day that it is vitally important we reiterate that message
Keegan Hirst, who became only the second professional British player to come out as gay in 2015, said he was “shocked and disappointed.”
“Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in,” he tweeted.
“It shows none of the bravery, camaraderie or integrity @rfl expects from its players, staff and fans.”
Just FYI, this has nothing to do with beliefs. It has everything to do with homophobia.
There are millions of people practicing their religion who are not homophobic.
Prejudice is prejudice and using religion, political beliefs or anything else to justify it is not ok.
— Keegan Hirst (@KeeganHirst) January 28, 2020
Catalans Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said he wanted to give Folau “a new opportunity to shine on the pitch” by handing him a one-year contract, but warned he would face an “immediate termination” should he express any anti-LGBT+ views.
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“We do not support or agree with Israel’s previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Folau, who previously said he would rather give up rugby than change his anti-LGBT+ stance, said: “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.”