Rugby club defends signing Christian player Israel Folau as others threaten legal action

Israel Folau(Photo: Reuters)

The Catalans Dragons have defended their decision to sign Israel Folau, saying they knew that signing the Christian player would be "controversial". 

Folau was fired by Rugby Australia in May last year after posting a picture to Instagram saying that "hell awaits" gay people among others if they do not repent. 

He sued Rugby Australia for $4.7m on the grounds of religious discrimination. Last December, he reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum with Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby.

Commenting on his new signing, Folau said he was "grateful" to join the Catalans, a French Super League club, Sky News reports.

"I'm excited to be back playing the game that I grew up playing," Folau said.

"It's been 10 years since I last played rugby league and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be part of a great organisation, a great team in the Catalans Dragons."

He added that he and his wife were excited to move to France and experience the "amazing" culture there.

Yorkshire Super League club the Hull Kingston Rovers are less happy about the move, warning the Catalans in an email of legal action if they suffer financial losses as a result of sponsors or commercial partners cancelling deals over the signing.

Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch has defended the decision to take on Folau in comments to local newspaper L'Independente. 

"When the moods of each other [side] have subsided, we will judge that this player is perhaps the biggest coup in the history of this sport and of [the club] in France," he said. 

"We will then savour the exemplary player he is. I know he will delight the Catalan public.

"We do not share or tolerate his opinions and we are totally committed to making our club and our sport open and welcoming to everyone.

"We think that these kind of remarks should not be expressed publicly, in particular by an athlete of high level.

"Leaving aside what he said recently, he can become a real example for young people, someone who trains hard and has an impeccable lifestyle and thoroughness. He is a hard worker."

Folau, 30, has been signed to the club on a one-year contract.

Catalans Dragons head coach Steve McNamara told Sky News: "We knew it would be controversial. 

"An opportunity arose when an overseas player left our club, we needed an outside back. We looked in France, England and overseas. We went down the route of investigating a fair few players, Israel was on that list.

"Having spent a lot of time speaking to him and understanding him a lot more, and getting the reassurances we did, we made a decision as a club that we would support the signing of Israel and give him another opportunity in our game."