Israel Folau will be greeted with rainbow flags by members of a gay rugby club with a transgender captain when he makes his first appearance on English soil for Catalans in Sunday’s trip to Hull FC.
The cross-code star and fundamentalist Christian recently became the most contentious signing in the Super League's 25-year history 2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appafter joining the Dragons on a one-year deal.
Folau spent the past decade in the 15-man code but was sacked by Rugby Australia last May2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app after posting on social media that “hell awaits” gay people.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appHis Instagram post read: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves”.
After being thrown out of rugby union, the 30-year-old centre was banned from returning to rugby league in the NRL.
There were, though, no such barriers preventing him moving to Super League, much to the disgust of many, not least Keegan Hirst, the former Wakefield player who came out in 2015.
“I think we came to the wrong conclusion and I think it was a sad day for Super League,” said Robert Elstone, Super League's executive chairman, admitting the furore had cost him sleep.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThere is a long road to any sort of redemption as Tyson Fury, who previously voiced homophobic views but regained the heavyweight world title and is now being hailed as a sporting hero, can testify.
But as debuts go, scoring a try in a home win against Castleford a fortnight ago2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app was perhaps as much as Folau, or Dragons coach Steve McNamara, could have hoped for.
Folau now seems certain to be cast as pantomime villain by the people of Hull at the KCOM Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Ian Farrugia is a Hull FC supporter and member of Hull Roundheads, a gay rugby union club formed in August 2018 who last year won a Special Equality & Diversity Award at the Yorkshire Volunteers Awards.
Farrugia told Telegraph Sport: “Folau has basically said you’re going to hell for something you can’t control - your sexuality - so a number of us from Roundheads will be at the game specifically to show support for the LGBT community.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“I’ve spoken to a few of the lads this week about what the atmosphere could be like and they don’t think anything major will happen. “here might be a pantomime boo and jeer for Folau right at the start of the game, but I think that will be it.
“We will proudly display our rainbow flags and there will no doubt be others as there is a huge gay scene in Hull.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“Our captain, William Bourne, is a transgender male and had previously played in a women's team.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“Becoming a part of the Roundheads has given him the acceptance and confidence to be comfortable in his own skin, like many in our team.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appKaren Horton, vice-chair of independent supporters group FC Voices, agrees there is unlikely to be a widescale protest against Folau.
She told Telegraph Sport: “On a personal note, my son is gay and when Folau joined Catalans my initial response was one of anger.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“My son was quite upset with his comments but I said to him that there will probably be Polynesian players within Hull's squad who probably have the same kind of religious beliefs as Folau.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“The big difference is that they haven't damned gay people to hell on social media.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“I don't believe in organised religion anyway, but there are players to have played in Super League, and still do, who have done far worse than voice a vile opinion.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIndeed, misdemeanours involving Super League players past and present range from cocaine use, assault, domestic violence, drink driving and even lewd behaviour with a dog.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appMany of the miscreants apologised and showed genuine remorse but Folau has not removed his post and clearly stands by his views.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appFarrugia added: “There are already so many mental health issues which come within the gay community.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“Rugby league and union are such inclusive sports and everyone involved in our club feels happy with who they are.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“But if you're struggling with your sexuality and the sport you love approves a guy who says 'you're going to burn in hell'... what message does that send out?”
What cannot be denied is Folau's natural talent.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appWhen he outjumped a Castleford defender to score with his first touch, it perfectly demonstrated why Catalans' desire to sign Folau was so great.
“He could be Man of Steel,” predicted Hull coach Lee Radford. “He’s multi-talented in union, league and AFL - you can tell he’s played AFL by how high he jumps. He's like Michael Jordan and a real aerial threat.”
Folau is said to have settled happily into life in the south of France with wife Maria.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThey are living near the coast and Folau is proving popular in Perpignan, often taking time to pose for pictures with young fans after training.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appRadford added: “He’ll probably be booed when he gets the football and booed if he scores and cheered when he misses a tackle. “He’ll get the same moans and groans as what anybody playing for Hull KR would get, I imagine.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appPantomime season beckons in Hull on Sunday - albeit a few weeks late.