Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch has defended the controversial signing of Israel Folau and says he can become a role model for youngsters in the game.
The Dragons have been widely criticised by clubs, officials, players and fans alike following the announcement that they had signed the disgraced former Australia rugby union international, who had his contract terminated last year for homophobic social media posts.
But Guasch says the signing is a major coup for the sport.
Guasch told L’Independent: “When the moods of each side have subsided, we will judge that this player is perhaps the biggest coup in the history of this sport and in France.
“We will then savour the exemplary player he is. I know he will delight the Catalan public.
“We do not share or tolerate his opinions and we are totally committed to making our club and our sport open and welcoming to everyone.
“We think that these kind of remarks should not be expressed publicly, in particular by an athlete of high level.
“Leaving aside what he said recently, he can become a real example for young people, someone who trains hard and has an impeccable lifestyle and thoroughness. He is a hard worker.”
The only openly gay professional rugby league player, Keegan Hirst, has slammed the signing, and revealed that Catalans coach Steve McNamara had rang him to tell him about the signing.
Sky Sports presenter Brian Carney said he was astonished at the Catalans’ decision to sign Folau, while St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus issued a statement condemning the move on Wednesday evening.
Folau hasn’t shown any remorse for his comments, since repeated and also not deleted from social media, citing his religion.
According to the Dragons, Folau will be immediately disposed of should he make any similar comment in the future.
He is due to make his debut in round two against Wakefield, Hirst’s former club, who are planning to demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Their Super League rivals Wigan have already announced that their home game with Folau’s new club in March will be a dedicated “Pride” fixture, which has gained widespread support.
Folau started his career with Melbourne in 2007 and has never been far away from controversy. He dumped rugby league for the AFL in 2010 while in Brisbane, and tried to represent Tonga when Australia refused to pick him at the end of that year.
After an unspectacular spell in the AFL, he switched to rugby union where he would go on to win 62 caps for the Wallabies.
In 2015, he said there was no room for homophobia in the game but in 2017, said he will not support gay marriage after the government pushed for a law change in Australia.
Last May, his contract with Rugby Australia was terminated after he was found to have breached their code of conduct, but he would ultimately launch legal proceedings against them, claiming compensation of $14m (£7.26m).
In December, a confidential out of court settlement was reached. Some commentators have queried whether the legal worry of Folau fighting any move to prevent his registration against the RFL and/or Super League, could have contributed to the decision.
Folau has never been convicted of a criminal offence.