Israel Folau joins Europe rugby league team after being axed for homophobic comments

Australian rugby player Israel Folau has been signed by the Catalan Dragons, a Super League rugby team, for a 12-month contract.

The 30-year-old dual-code international was dropped by the Wallabies after he made homophobic comments on social media in May last year.

He later gave a sermon where he claimed Australia's devastating bushfires were a "little taste of God's judgement" linked to Australia's same-sex marriage and abortion laws.

The Northern Hemisphere-based Super League Executive Chairman Robert Elstone said the signing "lets down many people" in the sport but said he had no power to veto the signing.

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

Folau will play for the Catalan Dragons for at least 12 months. Credit: PA

The France-based club, which represents Catalonia in the League, said they wanted to give Folau a "new opportunity to shine on the pitch."

Folau sparked a storm of controversy in April after he made an Instagram post where he claimed "hell awaits" gay people.

He was dropped by the Wallabies soon afterwards and was blocked from returning to Australia's National Rugby League (NRL), where he had played earlier in his career.

Openly gay professional rugby league player and Halifax forward Keegan Hirst said on Twitter he was "shocked and disappointed" by the signing.

Robbie De Santos, the director for sport for LGBT campaigns group Stonewall, said sportspeople "can really influence how people feel about sport."

"His anti-LGBT comments have a hugely negative impact, particularly on younger lesbian, gay, bi and trans people. They suggest that LGBT people are not welcome, safe or respected in sport," he said.

Folau said he acknowledged the Super League criticism, and said he looked forward to returning to Rugby League.

"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," he said.

The Dragons Chairman Bernard Guasch said the club did not "support or agree" with Israel's past comments.

"We do not share or condone those views and we are totally committed to our club and our sport being open and welcoming to everyone," he said.

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

The Wigan Warriors, who are due to play the Catalan Dragons on Sunday 22nd March, demonstrated their opposition to the signing by renaming the match 'Pride Day'.

The international Rugby Football League has confirmed it will not prevent the contract going ahead, saying the moral responsibility for deciding whether to sign a player rested with individual clubs.