Israel Folau: Catalans Dragons chairman defends controversial signing
29 January 2020, 16:44 | Updated: 29 January 2020, 17:09
Catalans Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch has hailed the controversial signing of Israel Folau as a major "coup" for rugby league and believes the Australian can become a role model for youngsters in the game.
The French Super League club have been widely criticised following Tuesday's announcement that they had signed the dual-code international, who was sacked by Rugby Australia last May for homophobic social media posts.
Guasch told 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.
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"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."
Catalans ignored the warnings of both the Rugby Football League and Super League with their signing of the 30-year-old Folau on a one-year contract.
Guasch's comments came after Keegan Hirst, the only openly gay rugby league professional, said he was "shocked and disappointed" by Folau's signing.
"It's gone against everything Rugby League stands for, prides itself on and expects of its players and fans," said Hirst.
"This signing has undermined and alienated all of those people."
Folau, who said "hell awaits" gay people in a social media post, has promised not to repeat his comments during his time with the Dragons.
Former Wales international Gareth Thomas, who is gay and also a former dual-code international, is equally upset by the Folau signing and says he will not watch the player.
"So Folau has joined the @SuperLeague. Really upset by this as the game, players, and fans were so good to me," tweeted Thomas, who had an 18-month stint in rugby league playing for Crusaders and Wales in 2010 and 2011 after the end of his rugby union career.
"All I hope is that as much as Folau wanted his right to speak, then players and fans alike are aloud (sic) their right to respond. I will never watch him."
Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone condemned the signing and Wigan have declared their home game against the Catalans in March a 'Pride Day' in response.
Folau could make his first appearance for the Dragons in round two of Super League on February 9 at Wakefield, who plan to follow Wigan's lead by reaching out to the LGBT groups.
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