Gay rugby league icon Ian Roberts has lashed the St George Illawarra Dragons over their interest in bringing Israel Folau back to the NRL.
The NRL community was left stunned on Tuesday after it emerged that the Dragons had made enquiries about bringing the 31-year-old former Wallaby back to the sport he made his name in.
EASY DOES IT: Strict clause behind Folau's potential NRL return
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo left the door open for Folau's return after confirming that he would consider a formal application from the Dragons as part of due process.
The bombshell development sparked ugly backlash on social media, with many Dragons fans saying they would tear up their memberships if the club signed the controversial star, whose homophobic religious views have proved hurt and divisive for many.
Roberts - who was the first openly gay man to play professional rugby league - described Folau's potential return to the NRL as a "s***storm waiting to happen.
The former Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Cowboys forward - who came out as gay in 1995 - has for the last five years played an active role in the NRL's inclusion program - helping to promote issues close to the heart of the LGBTIQ community.
“We have these scenarios around homophobia, misogyny, drugs in sport, use of social media,” Roberts told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“It’s a safe place for players to get things wrong because we can talk about it.”
Highlighting the high levels of suicide rates within the LGBTIQ community, Roberts says allowing Folau to return to the NRL could have devastating consequences.
“You know that shitstorm I was talking about? That shitstorm claims lives,” Roberts added.
“People don’t understand the effects of homophobia and the consequences. People in the LGBTIQ community know it because it’s our reality.
“We’ve all lost friends to suicide. For any kid out of the suburbs now dealing with sexuality in a negative way, and self-harm is a reality, this shitstorm is deadly.”
On Wednesday evening it emerged that the Dragons had decided not to pursue their initial interest in signing Folau.
“While the Dragons did enquire about signing Folau, the club can confirm that such discussions have now ceased,” a club statement confirmed.
Despite that development, Roberts said he was bewildered that the club had entertained Folau’s signing in the first place.
“At what point did someone at the Dragons think it would be a good idea to invite this shitstorm into their club?” Roberts asked.
“I would’ve thought the board and the coach could look at their position in rugby league, because this is about more than winning or losing.
“It’s about the actual fabric of the game. Who thought this was a good idea? It’s mind-blowing.
Israel Folau views ‘not inclusive’
Folau has been playing rugby league for Catalans in the Super League and signed a one-year extension with them in July last year.
However, the controversial former rugby union star has been in Australia over the summer for family reasons.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys has previously spoken of Folau's potential to return to the NRL, and was asked at his initial press conference upon taking on the role in 2019.
"The game is inclusive. Israel's comments are not inclusive," V'landys said at the time.
"When I was a kid and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them.
"And a lot of them, it's because they're role models or their peers made them that way.
"I have no tolerance for people that put other people's lives (at risk) or (commit) violence. It's a big statement to make.
"With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it.
"And when you're a kid at school and you get bashed up because you're different, I don't think that's a good thing."
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