Seven rugby players pull out of match in protest against LGBT rainbow jersey

Tuesday 26 July 2022 12:30 BST

Seven Australian rugby league players have pulled out of a match after refusing to wear a shirt bearing LGBT rainbow symbols.

North-based Manly Warringah Sea Eagles sydneysaid the players – who all featured in the club’s previous game – were opposed to wearing the shirt for religious and cultural reasons.

It has rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar, replacing the usual white decoration in these areas.

Coach Des Hasler defended the players, saying the club were guilty of not consulting them properly.

The seven unavailable for selection against the Sydney Roosters are Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley.

Under National Rugby League (NRL) rules, they cannot wear the standard shirt as match regulations require all players on a team to be in an identical strip.

“We accept their decision,” Mr. Hasler told reporters.

“These young men are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they need.”

The players were unaware of the shirt until it was shown to the media, the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported.

“The intent of the jersey was to support advocacy and human rights relating to gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ movements,” Mr. Hasler said.

“Unfortunately, the execution of what was expected to be a hugely important initiative has been poor. There has been little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club.”

The withdrawals will leave the Eagles badly depleted – NRL squads contain 13 starting players and four on the trade bench for each game.

Former Manly player Ian Roberts – the first professional rugby league player to come out as gay – said the players’ stance was “sad and uncomfortable”.

He told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph: ‘I can promise you every young kid on[Sydney’s]northern beaches dealing with their sexuality has heard of it.’

NRL boss Peter V’landys said if the league respected the players’ position, it hoped they would change their minds.

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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was “good for sport to be more inclusive”, adding: “It’s important that in Australian society we respect everyone for who they are.”

Mr Hasler apologized for the confusion, saying: ‘Our intention was to take care of all the diverse groups that face inclusion issues on a daily basis.’

He added: “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.”

The Pride shirts were a hit with fans, with local media reporting that the club had run out of their initial stock of all men’s and women’s sizes.

Elizabeth J. Harless