The rainbow flags will be flying with pride outside the Kcom Stadium on Sunday to welcome Israel Folau for his first rugby league game on English soil but his opponents insist it is business as usual.
Hull FC have prided themselves on being one of the most diverse, open-for-all clubs in Super League for years and it is perhaps fitting they play host to the Australian who caused a furore with his remarks last year on social media regarding, among other things, homosexuals.
Wakefield, who were due to be Folau’s first opponents before Storm Ciara led to their game with Catalans Dragons being postponed, were planning to go all out and invite the LGBTQ+ community to the game in a show of support.
Wigan are still pressing ahead with their plans to make the game in three weeks’ time against the Dragons “Pride Day”. While Hull will open their doors to everyone as per usual, they are keen to focus on matters on the field instead.
“The divisive views on this matter have been well documented and our opinion has been heard by Super League, the Rugby Football League and Catalans Dragons,” the club said. “In the buildup to Sunday’s game, we do not feel this is the appropriate time for further discussion and our club remains solely focused on our preparation for the match.”
Hull have displayed rainbow flags outside their stadium for several years in a long-term show of support for the LGBTQ+ community. Hull Roundheads RUFC, the city’s first male-inclusive rugby team, have a number of Hull FC-supporting players who will be in attendance on Sunday. “It’s disappointing that Catalans have taken him on,” said Ian Farrugia from the Roundheads. “The Super League clubs agreed they wouldn’t sign Folau, the NRL said they wouldn’t take him on and Catalans let him train with them and almost signed him through the backdoor.”
Hull say they have much more important matters to prioritise on Sunday, too. They will mark the death of their former player Adam Maher, who died on Tuesday from motor neurone disease.
The club are believed to have been inundated with requests from non-rugby league media, which even included proposals to sit with LGBTQ+ supporters, but they want to try to avoid, as much as possible, making a spectacle of the game.
“Adam Maher will be at the forefront of our minds when the team take to the field,” said Hull FC. “Like most clubs in our competition, we are committed to upholding our core values and principles, which are the very essence of our clubs, our charity foundations and our local communities.”
But what of Folau the player, rather than Folau the sideshow? His Catalans debut came when the Dragons beat Castleford two weeks ago, with the 30-year-old scoring a well-taken try in a sign of what is likely to come for a player of his ability. It has left the coach plotting his downfall on Sunday in no doubt about the calibre of player his team are set to face. “He’s a talent, an absolute talent,” the Hull coach, Lee Radford, said. “He’ll probably be booed when he gets the ball and booed if he scores and cheered when he misses a tackle. He’ll get the same moans and groans as what anybody playing here for Hull KR would get, I imagine.”
Many in the sport are still hesitant to offer their full, forthright views on Folau’s arrival in Super League. Unlike some other clubs, Hull say they have no intention of stoking the flames further and instead stressed that their views on inclusivity and diversity have not changed because of his arrival. They said: “It is important that everyone associated with our sport, including players, staff, supporters and sponsors feel valued, respected and part of our family.”