Super League chiefs voted unanimously on Wednesday for more powers to stop future controversial signings after rugby league club Catalans Dragons snapped up Israel Folau.
The issue of the dual-code international, who was sacked by Australian rugby union chiefs over his highly publicised homophobic views, dominated business at a routine meeting of sides in the northern English city of Salford.
After a four-hour meeting delegates emerged without comment, leaving Super League’s executive chairman Robert Elstone to issue a statement.
“Super League has clearly and consistently outlined its position on Israel Folau,” it said.
“With the season under way, we now feel it is important for Super League to separate what is an off-field matter from what is happening on the field.
“The Super League board accepts the legalities around the RFL’s [Rugby Football League’s] decision to register Israel Folau and the board has voted unanimously to put in place measures that ensure the Super League has greater authority to stop controversial signings such as this in the future.
“As a sport, we have an impressive and enviable track record when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion and we will continue our great work in those areas.”
Bernard Guasch, chairman of the French club, was conspicuous by his absence at the meeting even though other clubs had requested his presence.
The club were instead represented by consultant Niel Wood and sports director Alex Chan.
The Dragons said Guasch, who has defended his outfit’s decision to hand Folau a 12-month contract, was forced to attend to business in France.
The Folau signing has sparked anger from other Super League teams.
Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell wrote a letter to the Dragons warning them of possible legal consequences in the event of his club losing out financially due to the presence of the Australian.
Folau arrived in Perpignan at the weekend to begin training with his new team-mates but he is not expected to be risked for this weekend’s match at Wakefield.
The 30-year-old said he was “excited to be back playing the game that I grew up playing”.
“It’s been 10 years since I last played rugby league and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of a great organisation, a great team in the Catalans Dragons,” he said.
Coach Steve McNamara admitted the club had expected the signing of Folau to be controversial.
But he added: “Having spent a lot of time speaking to him and understanding him a lot more, and getting the reassurances we did, we made a decision as a club that we would support the signing of Israel and give him another opportunity in our game.”
Folau, who scored 37 tries in 73 Test appearances for the Wallabies, was dismissed last May after a social media post warning “hell awaits” gay people.
Both the RFL, the English game’s governing body, and Super League said they “deplored” Folau’s previous comments and the RFL said it was “a difficult decision” to allow him into the competition.
Rugby Australia in December reached a mediated agreement to end Folau’s lawsuit over his sacking but the financial terms of the deal were confidential.
Folau had been demanding A$14 million (US$9.5 million) in compensation, claiming he was unlawfully dismissed under legislation that bans sacking someone because of their religion.