Rugby League: Gay Super League star Keegan Hirst angered by Israel Folau signing

Keegan Hirst is Super League's first openly gay player
Keegan Hirst is Super League's first openly gay player Photo credit: Getty

Super League's first openly gay player has slammed the Rugby Football League's decision to allow Catalans Dragons to sign Israel Folau.

Wakefield Trinity prop Keegan Hirst said he was shocked and disappointed at news of Folau's signing, after Rugby Australia sacked him for homophobic comments on Instagram last year.

"Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia and standing up for the values it puts such high stock in," Hirst tweeted.

"It shows none of the bravery, camaraderie or integrity RFL expects from its players, staff and fans."

Folau signed a 12-month deal with the French side on Tuesday (NZ time), 10 years after he last played in the NRL with Brisbane Broncos.

The British rugby league community has largely greeted the move with outrage, with Super League chief executive Robert Elstone admitting he was disappointed at the signing, but conceding there was little he could do to prevent it.

"Super League deplores the homophobic comments Israel Folau has made in the past, which squarely contradict our sport's core values," Elstone said.

"I have sought the opinion of informed voices connected to our game and the majority 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. I made Catalans Dragons aware of those views.

"However, Super League does not have the authority to veto the registration of players and is satisfied by the due diligence carried out by the Rugby Football League.

"Israel Folau is a free agent, who has the right to work, and he has not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.

"Catalans Dragons has assured Super League that strict guidelines are in place to prevent the player from repeating his comments.

"They have also assured us that his contract will be terminated immediately, should he do so."

Folau's infamous Instagram post warned hell awaited homosexuals and resulted in his sacking last May.

But the two parties agreed an out-of-court settlement in December, after the former Wallaby sued Rugby Australia for religious discrimination.

The Super League echoed Elstone's comments, but claimed the moral responsibility for signing a player lay with individual clubs, given the former cross-code superstar had not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence.

Folau said he'd taken on board the concerns and promised not to make any comments that could cause offence.

"I acknowledge the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football League," said Folau.

"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."

Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said his club wanted to give Folau a new opportunity, but didn't share his religious beliefs.

"We do not believe that those views should be publicly expressed, especially by a high-profile sports person," Guasch said. "We have a signed agreement with the RFL.

"Any transgression will trigger an immediate termination of Israel's contract and a substantial fine for the club."

Hours after news of Folau's signing, Wigan announced their home match against Catalans on March 22 would be 'Pride Day', which will support the local LGBT community.