Farewell Folau: The sporting redemption that went bad

Rugby League World’s Treiziste Diarist Pierre Carcau reflects on the failed sporting redemption of Israel Folau, following a controversial parting of the ways with Catalans Dragons.

Whether you like Israel Folau or not, there’s a question you may not prevent yourself from asking.

Did Folau make the appropriate decision by leaving the Catalans Dragons and trying to be hired by an Australian second grade rugby league club? Moreover, by a club which is supported by a controversial Australian politician, whose party may be classified as belonging to the far-right wing, according to the continental Europe standards, at least.

Is it the best thing to do in terms of his career perspective?

All the religious and political issues aside, let’s have a closer look at the situation of Folau in the Catalans Dragons club this past year.

Remember how controversial his arrival at the club was. Folau was chased, it seemed, by all the journalists of the Anglophone world. That put a lot of pressure on the player’s shoulders. No one loves to be persecuted by paparazzi and this is unfortunately the usual life of many NRL stars.

Catalans Dragons communication department erected a kind of “protective barrier” around Folau. And it worked well. The media thunderstorm passed and Anglophone medias had to give up the fight. It was even easier to get rid of the Francophone mainstream ones: Many of them discovered the existence of rugby league and the Dragons at that delicate moment. How could they keep on maintaining the interest of their readers; without giving more importance to a code they are reluctant to follow usually? A difficult equation they never resolved. And at a risk of interference with their constant promotion of the union competitions, they soon gave up the chase for a story.

So, for them, to make a bold comparison, it was if Folau had retired from any sporting activity.

Discretely and efficiently, the Catalans Dragons dealt with the consequences of Folau’s statements in Australia (those that had got him into such trouble in the first place) now he was on French soil. An agreement was found with the local LGBT association who took part in some educational activities with the club’s young players. The hatchet was finally buried, despite the episode of the protest flags at the Gilbert Brutus’ stadium.

All Israel and his wife Maria had to do was follow that path secured by the Dragons. A season or two in Super League with the Dragons, and then inevitably accepting an offer from a rich TOP 14 union club in France, maybe? Of course, as long he didn’t make similar statements as he had down under. Israel Folau was somehow being ‘neutralised’ for the players’ market. Australia was a dead end for him, Europe was very promising.

Then the pandemic came.

Lucky Folau! His employer was sympathetic enough to let him go back to Australia and look after his family.

But Folau may never come back. He tried to find a NRL club but failed. He found a second-grade club, where his brothers play, but he chose to associate his return to Australia with religion (expressing again his personal vision of the bible) and with politics as Clive Palmer, who backs the player, is not only a sponsor of the club but also the leader of the United Australia Party.

All this mix of religion and politics, previously neutralised by the Catalans Dragons, was obvious at the press conference given, Friday 21st May. I won’t comment on that buit you can click to read the details online elsewhere.

So, will Folau win his case in Queensland? May be yes, maybe not.

But what is sure is that by leaving the Catalans, he turned his back on an honourable sporting redemption.

Doubt will now be in the public mind for his next move or about his new employer, whoever that is: Will he be recruited only for his sporting ability and not also for the symbol he represents or the statements he made in the past?

Whereas, if he was still in France, we would probably just by now be commenting on his passes of the ball, his tries and we would probably congratulate ourselves to have on our soil a player who is an asset for an ambitious club like the Catalans.