Catalans Dragons have reportedly changed their mind about unveiling new signing Israel Folau in front of the world's media because of the severe backlash that has erupted over the cross-code star's move to the Super League.
Rugby Australia (RA) sacked Folau for anti-gay social media posts, including one in which he said "hell awaits" homosexuals, and the two parties went to war before legal proceedings ended with them settling for a confidential amount late last year.
Folau left with some of the millions he was seeking after filing a lawsuit against RA for unlawful termination but his rugby career Down Under was over. However, French club Catalans offered him a lifeline and announced they'd lured him back to league — the game he first turned professional in.
But Folau's arrival was met with outrage in the footy world, which is reportedly part of the reason why Catalans have opted against a public unveiling of their prize recruit, according to ITV's Steve Scott.
Catalan Dragons @DragonsOfficiel have changed their minds about holding a media conference to unveil big new signing Israel Folau. Instead they are filming it ‘in-house’ and then distributing to media.— Steve Scott (@stevescott_itv) February 3, 2020
Can’t think why...#israelfolau
Catalans have reportedly been taken aback by the negative reaction to Folau's latest move and imposed a media lockout on queries involving the 30-year-old.
Dragons President Bernard Guasch said he did not support Folau's anti-gay stance or previous comments but offered him an olive branch because he had already served his punishment by being banished from the 15-a-side game in Australia.
"When we learned that Folau was on the market and that he was finished with the legal proceedings in Australia and he made his apologies to the rugby union authorities, I decided that we were going to recruit a rugby player," Guasch said.
"I do not want to get into any controversy at all. I think the player has already paid for his comments since he was fired from the Waratahs and he was not able to play in the World Cup."
Many have come out and slammed the Dragons' decision to give Folau a contract. The executive chairman of Europe's Super League said in a statement the majority of "informed voices connected to our game … share my disappointment that one of our clubs has chosen to sign him".
"There is a strong feeling that the decision to sign him lets down many people connected to our sport," Robert Elstone said. "I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views."
Wakefield Trinity chief executive Michael Carter argued Folau's registration "should have been refused" and said "his views are abhorrent in the modern world".
Wakefield player Keegan Hirst, the first British rugby league player to come out as gay, said on Twitter he was "shocked and disappointed" by Folau's arrival in Super League.
"Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in," he tweeted. "It shows none of the bravery, camaraderie or integrity RFL expects from its players, staff and fans."
English club Wigan Warriors also jumped on social media to take aim at Folau.
"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 support the LGBTQ+ community," the club wrote on Twitter.
Wigan players will wear rainbow socks and shoelaces while inviting LGBTQ+ groups to be part of the day.
According to Total Rugby League, Catalans have been blindsided by the wave of negative reaction.
The report says the Dragons "have been left reeling by the media reaction to their decision to rescue Israel Folau" and are shocked by the "chorus of condemnation".
League Weekly reports Folau's signing has led to concerns sponsors could be scared away not just from Catalans but from the Super League entirely.
Carter told the publication: "So many people are vehemently against it and, for a club like ours, this could have major financial repercussions throughout our organisation."
Folau started his league career with Melbourne Storm as a teenager before moving to the Brisbane Broncos. He represented Queensland and Australia before an ill-fated stint in AFL was followed by a move to rugby union with the NSW Waratahs and Wallabies.