Catalans Dragons’ signing of Israel Folau is a slap in the face for rugby league’s bid for inclusivity, says the game’s only openly gay player.
The French club ignored the warnings of both the Rugby Football League and Super League with their acquisition of the 30-year-old dual-code international, who was sacked by Rugby Australia last May for making homophobic comments on social media.
The RFL says it was powerless to prevent Catalans registering the player, who has signed a one-year contract on the eve of the new season.
“It is really disappointing and very frustrating,” former Wakefield forward Keegan Hirst told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Rugby league champions itself on being tolerant, inclusive and diverse and people work really hard promoting those values and this signing and the lack of being able to stop it by the RFL and Super League is a slap in the face to all those people’s hard work.
“Anyone who has a moral compass or values, this is alienating and undermining those people.”
Folau, who said “hell awaits” gay people, has promised not to repeat his comments during his time with the Dragons but Hirst, who came out in 2017, is disappointed that he has not shown any remorse.
“Everyone deserves a second chance but to get a second chance I think you have to be sorry for the mistake you made and show some remorse and want to better yourself and move one – that’s not the case,” he said.
“That’s not the case: all his anti-gay sentiment has not been taken down, he is not sorry about it.
“It is not a case of changing his belief, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but to use those beliefs to justify any type of prejudice is not OK.
“When freedom of speech is incendiary or inflammatory, it needs to be challenged.
“Israel Folau has mentioned this repeated times. He is entitled to his beliefs – he is not going to change them because if he was he would have…