SYDNEY (AFP) – Seven players from the Manly Sea Eagles have pulled out of a National Rugby League match in Australia because they are not ready to wear their club’s shirt.
The jersey has rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar – instead of the regular white clips – to support LGBTQ inclusion in the sport, and the club plans to use it in one match against the Sydney Roosters.
Sea Eagles coach Des Hassler said on Tuesday that seven players advised club officials that wearing the Pride shirt goes against their cultural and religious beliefs.
“The players will not play on Thursday and we accept their decision,” Hassler said. “These young people are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they need.
“The playing group is solid and understands each other’s points of view. As a club we will wear the shirt on Thursday night.”
Josh Aluyi, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipuluto, Josh Schuster, Humul Olakawatu, Tulu Kula and Tuafuwa Sibley are unavailable for selection on Thursday. NRL teams have 13 starting and four bench players per game.
Hasler apologized for the fallout from the club’s lack of prior consultation with the group playing.
“Our goal was to take care of all the diverse groups that face integration issues on a daily basis,” Hassler said. “It is unfortunate that this poor management has caused great confusion, discomfort and pain to so many people, particularly those groups for whom we are actually trying to uphold human rights.
“We would like to apologize to the LGBTQ community who embrace the colors of the rainbow, who use these colors for pride, advocacy and human rights issues.”
Australian Rugby League committee chair Peter Flandis said he understood players’ choices, based on religious and cultural differences, but pushed for inclusion and acceptance into the sport.
“One of the things I am most proud of in rugby league is that we treat everyone equally,” Flandes said. “It doesn’t matter your colour, sexual orientation or race. We are all equal.
“We will never hold back in making our sport inclusive. But at the same time we will not respect the freedoms of our players.”
The NRL doesn’t have a specific Pride tour, but V’landys said it could be a consideration for future seasons.
Andrew Bretch, co-founder of the Pride in Sport program which supports Australian sports clubs in aspects of the inclusion, has acknowledged the apology from Sea Eagles.
“Conversation, education, and building understanding are key to moving forward respectfully on these important discussions in our communities,” Buy said in a statement. In its simplest form, the Pride T-shirt indicates a core value: everyone must feel safe to play.
“We strongly support NRL in its endeavors to continue to uphold the values associated with inclusivity, safety and belonging, and urge all people to think of these values as non-controversial values that we can unite around.”
The Sea Eagles are ninth in the NRL, and one spot below the Roosters. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
Manley was the only club that planned to wear the Pride shirt on this tour.
Former Manley striker Ian Roberts, who in the 1990s was the first high-profile rugby league player to come out as gay, said he was not surprised by the players’ decision.
“It didn’t quite shock me as much as it did everyone,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “As an older gay guy I got used to this. I expected there to be some kind of religious retreat.”
Jersey County has dominated coverage of the National Football League after it was reported late Monday by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, with criticism of the boycott and the club’s failure to consult the players.
The newspaper said the players did not know they were expected to wear the shirt until after it was shown to the media.
The NRL rules will not allow the seven players to wear a replacement jersey without the rainbow letters because the match regulations require all players on the team to wear identical clothing.
The Pride shirts were such a hit with fans that local media reported that the club had run out of initial stock of all sizes for men and women.
Players in other sports have previously refused to wear T-shirts containing advertisements or messages that contradict their beliefs. In 2016, cricketer Fuad Ahmed was allowed to play in the jersey that did not have the beer sponsor’s logo for the Australian team due to his opposition to alcohol on religious grounds.
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