Australian rugby star Israel Folau was at the center of a new controversy on Sunday when he opted against taking a knee during a Super League anti-racism protest, a decision backed as a “personal choice” by his coach.

Folau, 31, playing for Catalans Dragons, raised eyebrows at the start of a match against St. Helens in Leeds when he remained standing while other players and officials took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“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,” said Dragons coach Steve McNamara.

“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.”

Folau, 31, was fired by Rugby Australia in May 2019 over a homophobic social media post.

However, he made his return to the 13-a-side game in February with the Dragons after a decade of playing Australian rules football and union.

Taking a knee at sporting events has become increasingly common in recent weeks.

However, a number of Formula One drivers have opted to remain standing.

On Friday, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic became the first NBA player not to kneel during the national anthem since the league resumed last week in Florida.

On the pitch on Sunday, St. Helens enjoyed a resounding 34-6 win as the Super League returned from its coronavirus shutdown.

The match, postponed in February due to Saints’ involvement in the World Club Challenge, marked the resumption of the campaign after a five-month lay-off caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

With no spectators and scrums, the game marked the arrival of a new set of regulations highlighted by the “six again” rule copied from the NRL — a set of six more tackles for ruck infringements.

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