Seven players from the Manly Sea Eagles have opted out of an NRU game in Australia because they don’t want to wear their club’s jersey.
The jersey features rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar instead of the usual white sections to support LGBTQ participation in the sport, and the club plans to use it in one game against the Sydney Roosters.
Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler said on Tuesday that seven players told club officials that wearing the Pride jersey is against their cultural and religious beliefs.
“The players will not play on Thursday and we accept their decision,” Hasler said.
“These young people are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they need.
“The gaming group is cohesive and understands each other’s views. As a club, we will be wearing the jersey on Thursday night.”
Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Shuster, Haumole Olakauatu, Tolu Kula and Toafofoa Sipley are not available for selection on Thursday.
NRL rosters consist of 13 starting players and four on the bench for each game.
Hasler apologized for the repercussions stemming from the club’s failure to consult with the playing group in advance.
“Our goal was to take care of all the different groups that face integration issues on a daily basis,” Hasler said.
“Unfortunately, this mismanagement has caused a lot of confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, in particular for those groups whose human rights we are actually trying to support.
“We want to apologize to the LGBTQ community who use the colors of the rainbow, who use those colors for pride, advocacy and human rights.”
We will never take a step back to make our sport inclusive. But at the same time, we will not disrespect the freedoms of our players.Peter V’landis, Australian Rugby League Commission
Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’landis said he understands the choice of players based on religious and cultural differences, but pushes for inclusion and recognition in the sport.
“One thing I’m proud of about rugby league is that we treat everyone the same,” said Mr V’landis.
“It doesn’t matter your skin color, sexual orientation or race. We are all equal.
“We will never take a step back to make our sport inclusive. But at the same time, we will not neglect the freedoms of our players.”
The NRL does not have a designated pride round, but Mr. V’landis said it could be considered in future seasons.
Andrew Purchas, co-founder of the Pride In Sport program, which supports Australian sports clubs in terms of inclusion, has accepted an apology from the Sea Eagles.
In essence, the pride jersey symbolizes a fundamental value: everyone should feel safe while playing.Andrew Shopping, Pride In Sport
“Talking, educating and building rapport are key to respectfully advancing these important discussions in our communities,” Mr. Pokups said in a statement.
“Essentially, the pride jersey signals a fundamental value: everyone should feel safe while playing.
“We strongly support the NRL in its quest to continue upholding the values associated with inclusion, safety and belonging, and we encourage all people to think of these as non-contradictory values that we can unite around.”
The Sea Eagles are in ninth place in the NRL, one position behind the Roosters. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs.
Manly was the only club planning to wear the pride jersey for this round.
Former Manly striker Ian Roberts, who in the 1990s became the first known rugby league player to come forward as gay, said he was not surprised by the players’ decision.
“It didn’t shock me as much as it shocks everyone else,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“As an older gay man, I’m used to it. I expected there to be some sort of religious outcry.”
The shirt boycott dominated NRL coverage after it was reported late on Monday by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, criticizing both the boycott and the club’s lack of consultation with the players.
The newspaper reported that the players did not know they would be wearing the jersey until it was shown to the media.
NRL rules do not allow seven players to wear an alternate jersey without a rainbow message because match rules require all players on a team to wear the same stripe.
Pride jerseys were a hit with fans, with local media reporting that the club had sold out of initial stock in all men’s and women’s sizes.
Players in other sports have previously refused to wear jerseys with advertisements or messages that conflict with their beliefs.
In 2016, cricketer Fawad Ahmed was allowed to play in a jersey that did not include the logo of the Australian team’s beer sponsor due to his objection to alcohol on religious grounds.