An Australian rugby league club’s historic decision to wear rainbow jerseys in celebration of gay pride has sparked a boycott from seven of its players.
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles unveiled shirts with rainbow stripes to “celebrate inclusiveness and diversity” for their upcoming match on Thursday, which is set to be crucial for their chances of making the playoffs.
The Sydney-based club had spoken of its pride at becoming the first team in the history of the National Rugby League to wear such a jersey but reports in Australia have said that seven players are opposed to wearing the shirts on “cultural and religious” grounds and will miss the match as a result.
Former Manly player Ian Roberts, the first professional rugby league player to come out as gay in Australia, said the players’ opposition to the jersey was “sad” and called the situation “heartbreaking”.
The head coach of the Sea Eagles, Des Hasler, confirmed that the playing and coaching staff were not aware of the jerseys until they were unveiled on Monday. In a press conference, Hasler apologised for the club’s mishandling of the situation but confirmed that the team will continue to wear the shirts in the match.
“The intent of the rainbow colour application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion for all, utilising the symbolic colours of pride to embrace all groups who feel marginalised and faced discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice,” Hasler said.
“The jersey intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race culture, ability and LGBTQ rights. Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor.
“There was little consultation or collaboration with key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club. Sadly, this poor management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people. In particular, those groups whose human rights we were, in fact, attempting to support.
“We have even adversely affected our player group, a wonderful group of people comprising of many different racial and cultural backgrounds. We wish to sincerely apologise for the mistakes we have made.”
The owner of the team, Scott Penn, confirmed the players would not be “forced” to play but said their decision was “disappointing”. He told the Sydney Herald: “We’re not walking away from our position. And we respect their beliefs. We don’t want those players to be outcasts, but as a club we celebrate and support everyone.”