Decks have been cleared for Israel Folau’s return to Australia’s Rugby League, two years after an unceremonious exit over his homophobic posts on social media. Folau, has reportedly managed to secure a release from French Rugby league club Catalans Dragons. The player, who is now backed by billionaire and former politician Clive Palmer, may reportedly make his debut for the Gold Coast team Southport Tigers, as early as this Saturday.

The negotiations surrounding Folau breaking the contract with the Dragons were touch and go, and a little heated. Folau had initiated legal action against the Queensland Rugby League for its refusal to ratify his registration because he was still contracted to the Dragons. It was reported that the Dragons released Folau, following a payment of $50,000.

Legal Representative and Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said of the outcome  that “Israel has been great with us in 2020 both on and off the field and we wanted to facilitate the negotiations to reach an agreement.  

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Folau’s return will be significant to the culture of the NRL – in recent years the league , along with AFL and Australia Tennis, have worked to  improve upon inclusion frameworks within sports

Star Observer has written extensively about Folau over the years, from when he was more than comfortable gracing our front cover to that moment of 2018, when Folau came out, airing his deeply problematic view of religion and teachings.

After he posted the now infamous image condemning homosexuals to hell, things quickly took a  turn for team Folau, starting with multiple offers after what was  fierce public backlash, all  of which led to a quick exit from a number of Folau’s lucrative sponsorship deals,

Things were done for Folau in Australia by then, and so French NRL team, the Catalans Dragons threw him a lifeline, playing on the team over recent years, giving us in Australia a break from his diatribes.

Now, the break up with the French team is official and the contract broken, mostly thanks from Folau’s new sponsor, Clive Palmer and the mining magnet’s  $ 2.32-million company Mineralogyis

The pair had made their new relationship official at a late May press conference where, Palmer gushed over Folau describing him as the “best rugby player in the world’ adding dubiously that “there was no legal reason why “Israel Folau [couldn’t] play”.

The company have announced its sponsorship shall continue across the entirety of the Tigers upcoming season, whether or not this sponsorship will be extended, is unknown

With, Palmer having  already built a dinosaur themed resort in Queensland, this sponsorship deal is kind of similar, never mind  the collateral.

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Folau’s meteoric  rise and then fall has been shadowed by a passion for hate speech.

Also, a long serving poster boy for conservative Christian groups and supporters of the Religious Discrimination Bill,  Folau return is fortuitous in its timing.

The bill is set to be introduced to Parliament by December 2021 and Folau’s return will no doubt fire up its supporters. The gloves are off, we should feel nothing but pleasure as he and his ideas are burnt at the stake, lighting our way into a new year.

Australian sport have progress towards inclusivity and diversity by leaps and bounds, and Folau is no more than a fly in the ointment.

But his triumphant return will be felt acutely by Australian LGBTQI communities and those abroad. The impact will also be felt locally, especially for  Gold Coast’s own LGBTQI+ communities, who view it as damaging.

Whist negotiations were still underway with the Catalans Dragons last month, Star Observer spoke with a number of local community members. None held back when it came to Folau becoming their newest neighbor.

“It certainly talks to the type of culture that is here on the Gold Coast and its not very good for the LGBTQI community. We are very disappointed that South Port Tigers signed Israel Folau and it just goes to show what the Tiger’s values are,” Vince Siciliani Director of Gold Coast Rainbow Communities told Star Observer.

Many other also identified with these sentiments, fearing a doubling down on the Gold Coast’ long standing, still visible anti LGBTQI culture, exemplified on the two years since the closure of two nightclubs. Since then no new local, queer safe space had opened

While Folau name is a big for a club like the Southport Tigers it is necessary for the club to step up and in someway support LGBTQI people, perhaps by  fundraising for local LGBTQI groups. With vital projects in the pipeline, including a new purpose built community space, it is really is time, that the team is not defined by Folau and his homophobia.

 

 

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