Disgraced rugby player Israel Folau has “no regrets” about making the homophobic comments that led to his downfall.
Folau, 32, had his contract with the Australian national team torn up in 2019 for social media posts telling LGBT+ people, among other “sinners”, that “Hell awaits you”.
Now the athlete, who revived his career by playing in Japan’s Top League competition, is eyeing a return to international ruby by transferring to Tonga for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“I have no regrets about anything,” he told AFP, “but it’s led me here to Japan and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m just stoked to be playing rugby again. It’s a different experience to what I’m used to back in Australia but it’s something that I’m really enjoying.”
World Rugby’s rather relaxed rules when it comes to international allegiances has paved a way for Israel Folau to stage his comeback.
Following a stand-down period of at least three years, players can represent a second country if they, their parents or their grandparents were born there – and Folau’s parents are Tongan.
“Representing your heritage and where you’re from, representing your parents, is something that is quite close to not only myself but to many other Polynesians,” Folau told the news agency.
“It would be a huge honour if I got the opportunity. We’ll see if that opportunity comes about, but I’d love to put the Tongan jersey on and represent Tonga.”
Israel Folau has a history of anti-LGBT+ remarks
Israel Folau‘s fall was swift.
While playing rugby union for both the New South Wales Waratahs and Australia’s national team, the Wallabies, he posted on Instagram a graphic that told “homosexuals”, “adulterers”, “atheists” and others that “Hell awaits you”.
The post to this day has never been removed. But rugby officials were quick to remove the star player altogether, saying that his “beliefs” were “inconsistent with the values of the sport”.
“We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts,” said Raelene Castle, the chief executive of Rugby Australia, and Andrew Hore, the chief executive of New South Wales Rugby Union, in a joint statement at the time.
Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu’s Australian Israel Folau fights for the ball with Tokyo Sungoliath’s Damian McKenzie (L) during the Japan Rugby League One match between Tokyo Sungoliath and Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
Folau sought to sue Australian rugby’s governing body, claiming unlawful termination. A literal millionaire, he asked fans to pay his $3 million legal fees, collecting around $350,000 before GoFundMe shut his page down.
A confidential settlement was later struck between Folau and Rugby Australia, after which Folau silently returned to rugby playing for the French team Catalans Dragons.
He attempted to sign earlier this year with George Illawarra Dragons, an Australian national club, only for talks to collapse following biting backlash from sponsors.
Folau, a former Mormon who is now a member of the Pentecostal denomination Assemblies of God, has a track record of anti-LGBT+ comments.