/ 27 July 2022

Manly’s rainbow disconnection

Image source: Supplied
Image source: Supplied

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler apologised yesterday for the NRL club’s “significant mistake” of not consulting players about plans to debut a gay pride jersey in their match tomorrow night. This issue blew up on Monday night when 7 players told team officials they would not wear the shirt with rainbow colours where white stripes usually are and would boycott tomorrow night’s game against the Sydney Roosters. The club is going ahead with the plan – it will be the first time an NRL team wears a jersey to promote LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in the sport.

The players – Josh Aloiai, Toafofoa Sipley, Tolutau Koula, Christian Tuipulotu, Haumole Olakau’atu, Jason Saab and Josh Schuster – say the gesture is incompatible with their religious and personal beliefs. Coach Hasler says he’s worried about the group because “spirituality is a central part of their wellbeing”. But he didn’t back away from the aim of promoting inclusiveness, saying he was sorry for the “confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, in particular, those groups whose human rights we were, in fact, attempting to support”. Hasler has received high praise for his words, including from his former teammate Ian Roberts, a Sea Eagles legend and the first NRL player to come out as gay back in 1995. He “fully respects” the players’ call but says the episode is damaging for young people struggling with their sexuality and has called on the sport’s governing body to do more.

In an immediate sense, it ends with Hasler finding another 7 players to plug into his 17-man lineup for an important game for the team’s finals prospects. But the issue is set to simmer with the NRL considering the launch of a pride round next year. The thing to note is that 45% of NRL players are of Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and Cook Islands heritage – and many have a strong connection to church groups that frown on anything other than hetero ways of life. So standby… And the boycott isn’t without precedent – earlier this year, Muslim AFLW player Haneen Zreika opted out of the league’s pride round on religious grounds. Yesterday, a Christian Lobby spokesman said it’s “not inclusive to force someone to wear a political symbol.” But the sport’s chairman Peter V’landys is undaunted, saying the message has to be that it “doesn’t matter who you are, we are treated equally”. And as for the fans, well, the Manly jersey has sold out.

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