Folau the only player not to kneel

 

Israel Folau was the only player not to kneel before kick-off as his Catalans Dragons lost to St Helens on the weekend the UK Super League restarted its season.

The campaign has been on hold for nearly five months because of coronavirus and every player except the former NRL and rugby union star took a knee in a show of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Super League CEO Robert Elstone and referee Ben Thaler also knelt, but Dragons coach Steve McNamara defended Folau's decision to stay on his feet.

"As a group of players and coaching staff, we spoke about it in depth and as a club we are completely against racism and all for equal opportunity," he said after the match.

"But there were some players and staff who made the decision not to take the knee. That was based on personal choice, they have their own reasons for doing that, and we decided we would respect anyone's personal choice on the matter."

Some on social media criticised Folau, but ex-British rugby league star Leon Pryce backed the 31-year-old.

"Nobody should feel like they are forced to do anything they are not comfortable with," he wrote on Twitter.

Taking a knee has become common in the sports world since the death of American man George Floyd in police custody sparked widespread protests. It was a feature of the English Premier League when its season restarted and almost all players in the NBA knelt while wearing Black Lives Matter shirts as their campaign got back underway last week.

Closer to home, AFL and NRL players also took a knee when their seasons resumed.

However, Folau isn't alone in deciding to keep his feet. On Saturday, Orlando Magic star Jonathan Isaac became the first NBA player to stand during the national anthem while in F1, multiple drivers have opted against kneeling before the start of races.

 

Folau endured a rough return to the field as Catalans suffered a heavy loss.
Folau endured a rough return to the field as Catalans suffered a heavy loss.

Folau took legal action against Rugby Australia after being sacked last year for posting on Instagram that "hell awaits" gay people. He wanted $14 million in compensation for wrongful termination and in December the two parties came to a confidential settlement.

Exiled from the 15-man code Down Under, Folau signed to play with French side Catalans in the Super League. He debuted for his new team in February, scoring a try in his first outing against Castleford as he made a return to rugby league after 10 years away playing AFL and rugby union.

However, the former Wallaby's arrival at Catalans was accompanied by controversy. Some supporters turned up to his first match with rainbow flags in protest against Folau's homophobic comments on social media, and complained they were told by security they weren't allowed to display them.

As Super League action returned for the first time since March, St Helens thrashed Folau's Dragons 34-6 in an empty stadium because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Last month Folau signed a contract extension with Catalans to stay with the Dragons until the end of the 2021 season.

Originally published as Folau the only player not to kneel



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