Disgraced Australian rugby player Israel Folau is set to make a return to the sport less than a year after he was fired by Rugby Australia for sharing a post on social media saying "hell awaits" gay people.
The 30-year-old sports star has been signed by French Super League squad Catalan Dragons eight months after his contracted with Rugby Australia was terminated over repeated homophobic online posts.
The Catalan Dragons announed on Tuesday (28 January) that they had signed Folau on a one-year contract with "immediate effect" and wanted to "give Israel a new opportunity to shine on the pitch".
Folau told the club's website: "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."
The decision has been met with widespread criticism, with Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone saying there is a "strong feeling" that the signing "lets down many people connected to our sport", Sky News reports.
"I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views"," Elstone said.
Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said that the club does "not support or agree with Israel's previously expressed and controversial views which are based upon his sincerely held religious belief", adding that any further public expression of homophobic from Folau would result in his contract being immediately terminated.
British rugby league player Keegan Hirst, who came out as gay publicly in 2015, said he was "shocked and disappointed" by the signing.
I’m shocked and disappointed at the signing of @IzzyFolau. Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in. It shows none of the bravery, cameraderie or integrity @rfl expects from its players, staff and fans— Keegan Hirst (@KeeganHirst) January 28, 2020
"Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in" the 31-year-old former Attitude cover star wrote on Twitter.
"It shows none of the bravery, cameraderie or integrity @rfl expects from its players, staff and fans."
Meanwhile, Super League club Wigan Warriors responded to the news by announced that their upcoming fixture against the Catalan Dragons will be officially recognised as a "Pride Day", with all players set to wear rainbow socks in support of the LGBTQ equality.
"Wigan Warriors can confirm that their round six game against Catalans Dragons on Sunday 22nd March will now be Pride Day, as the Warriors look to support the LGBTQ+ community", a statement on the club's website reads.
"The game against the Dragons will see the Club’s players wear Rainbow socks, provided by kit suppliers hummel, and the players will wear Rainbow Laces for the game with the Club also inviting LGBTQ+ groups, both locally and nationally, to be part of the day."