Seven players from the Australian rugby league team Manly Warringa Sea Eagles declined to play in the upcoming game because the club wants them to wear a Pride jersey to support LGBTQ+ inclusion in the sport.
The team were to wear rainbow striped jerseys with a rainbow collar for Thursday’s game against rivals Sydney Roosters.
But seven players have told club officials that wearing the jersey is against their cultural and religious beliefs, even though the specially designed kit is a huge hit with the team’s supporters.
“The players won’t play Thursday and we accept their decision,” Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler said.
“These young people are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they need,” he added.
“The gaming group is cohesive and understands each other’s views. As a club, we will be wearing the jersey on Thursday night.”
Seven players – Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Shuster, Haumole Olakauatu, Tolu Kula and Toafofoa Sipley – are unavailable for selection on Thursday. Rugby league squads 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.”
The reaction of the representatives of the league
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landis said he understands players’ choices based on religious and cultural differences, but pushes for inclusion and recognition in the sport.
“One thing I’m proud of in rugby league is that we treat everyone the same,” V’landis said. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, your sexual orientation or your race. We’re 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 V’landis said it could be considered in future seasons.
Andrew Purchas, co-founder Pride in sports the program, which supports Australian sports clubs in terms of inclusion, acknowledged the apology from the Sea Eagles.
“Conversations, education and building rapport are key to respectfully advancing these important discussions in our communities,” the Purchase said in a statement. “Essentially, the Pride jersey symbolizes a fundamental value: everyone should feel safe while playing.
“We strongly support the NRL in its quest to continue to champion the values of 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.”
Local media reports state that the Manly players were not aware 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.
The Pride jerseys were a hit with fans, with local media reporting that the club had sold out initial stock in all men’s and women’s sizes.