Israel Folau: Halifax’s Keegan Hirst feels ‘let down’ by signing

Keegan Hirst

Keegan Hirst said the time had come “to be true to myself” when he came out in August 2015

Halifax prop Keegan Hirst says he feels “let down” by Catalans’ signing of former Australia rugby union international Israel Folau.

Folau, 30, who was sacked by Rugby Australia for homophobic social media posts in April 2019 has signed a one-year deal with the Super League club.

Hirst, 31, Britain’s first openly gay rugby league player, said the decision is “disappointing and frustrating”.

Super League say “strict guidelines are in place” should Folau repeat comments.

Folau said he “acknowledged the views expressed by Super League and the Rugby Football 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 added.

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Hirst, who signed for Halifax in August, said he felt the move “undermines and alienates all the people who put time into making rugby league such a forward thinking and tolerant sport”.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he added: “It kind of endorses what he says and opens the door to people with similar opinions and views to come into the game.”

The Rugby Football League and Super League said they “deplored” Folau’s previous comments and it was “a difficult decision” to allow him into the competition.

Catalans’ season-opening game is at home against Huddersfield on Saturday.

“The line is crossed when people use religious or political beliefs for prejudices and the thing that is disappointing about this is if what he’d said had been about race or another religion then this wouldn’t even be being discussed,” Hirst continued.

“This isn’t a question of freedom of speech, but obviously speech has consequences and if that speech is discriminatory or prejudice, then it needs to be called out.”


Israel Folau has played rugby league before in Australia for the Brisbane Bronocs and Melbourne Storm

Hirst also revealed Catalans coach Steve McNamara called him to explain the decision.

“He said he was giving me a call out of respect, but I kind of brushed that to one side, because if that was the case, he wouldn’t have signed him,” said Hirst.

“I told him I felt there was two things going on. Either Catalans didn’t care what he said which was worrying, or they did care, but they were willing to put their values to one side for a few extra tries a year and a couple of extra league places.

“Out of seven billion people on the planet, nobody else must have been available for Catalans this season.”

Former Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby union captain Gareth Thomas, who also played rugby league for Wales, said he was “really upset” and that he “will never watch him”.

Thomas, who announced he was gay in 2009 when he played for rugby union side Cardiff Blues, suffered homophobic abuse as a Celtic Crusaders player at Castleford in 2010.

Folau was sacked for saying “hell awaits” gay people, after previously being warned over his social media posts.

He sued Rugby Australia for £7.4m, arguing he was a victim of religious discrimination, reaching a financial settlement in December.

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