Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler said on Tuesday that seven players had told club officials that wearing the Pride shirt conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs.
“The players will not play on Thursday and we accept their decision,” Hasler said. “These young men are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they need.
“The squad of players is solid and understands everyone’s point of view. As a club, we will wear the shirt on Thursday evening.
Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley are unavailable for selection on Thursday. NRL teams contain 13 starting players and four on the exchange bench for each game.
Hasler apologized for the fallout resulting from the club’s lack of prior consultation with the group of players.
“Our intent was to care for all of the diverse groups that face inclusion issues on a daily basis,” Hasler said. “Unfortunately, this mismanagement has caused a lot of confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, especially the groups whose human rights we are actually trying to support.
“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.”
Australian Rugby League committee chairman Peter V’landys said he understands player choices, based on religious and cultural differences, but pushes for inclusion and acceptance in the sport.
“One thing I’m proud of with rugby league is that we treat everyone the same,” V’landys said. “It doesn’t matter your color, your sexual orientation or your 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 disrespect the freedoms of our players.
The NRL does not have a designated Pride tower, but V’landys said that could be a consideration for future seasons.
Andrew Purchas, co-founder of the Pride In Sport program which supports Australian sports clubs with aspects of inclusion, acknowledged the Sea Eagles apology.
“Conversation, education and understanding are essential to respectfully advancing these important discussions in our communities,” Purchas said in a statement. “At its core, a Pride jersey signals a core value: everyone should feel safe to play.
“We strongly support the NRL in its efforts to continue to uphold the values associated with inclusivity, safety and belonging, and we urge everyone to think of these as non-controversial values around which we can unite. .”
The Sea Eagles sit ninth in the NRL, one place below the Roosters. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
Manly were the only club to plan to wear a pride shirt this round.
Former Manly striker Ian Roberts, who in the 1990s was the first top rugby league player to come out as gay, said he was not surprised by the players’ decision.
“It didn’t totally shock me like it shocks everyone else,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “As an older gay man, I’m used to this. I expected there to be some sort of religious pushback.
The shirt boycott dominated NRL coverage after it was reported by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Monday night, with criticism both for the boycott and for the club’s lack of consultation with players.
The newspaper said the players were unaware they would have to wear the shirt until it was shown to the media.
NRL rules would not allow all seven players to wear an alternate shirt without the rainbow messaging, as match regulations require all players on a team to wear identical stripe.
The Pride shirts were a hit with fans, with local media reporting that the club had run out of initial stock of all men’s and women’s sizes.
Players in other sports have previously refused to wear shirts with advertising or messages contrary to their beliefs. In 2016, cricketer Fawad Ahmed was cleared to play in a shirt that did not bear the Australian team’s beer sponsor logo due to his opposition to alcohol for religious reasons.
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