Gay rugby pro ‘heartbroken’ after players boycott match over LGBTQ+ Pride tops
A bitter row has erupted in Australia after seven rugby league players chose to boycott an upcoming game rather than wear Pride-coloured jerseys.
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles announced on Monday (25 July) that players would wear jerseys with rainbow detailing to an upcoming match “to celebrate inclusiveness”.
This led to seven players stepping down from the game, citing “religious and cultural” concerns.
Reuters reported that Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley will be standing down from the National Rugby League (NRL) game against Sydney Roosters on Thursday (28 July).
Former Manly player Ian Roberts, the first professional rugby league player to come out as gay in Australia in 1995, told Australia’s Daily Telegraph that the players’ decision to boycott the game “breaks my heart”.
— Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (@SeaEagles) July 24, 2022
“I try to see it from all perspectives but this breaks my heart,” he said.
“It’s sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, this isn’t unfamiliar. I did wonder whether there would be any religious push back. That’s why I think the NRL have never had a Pride round.”
He added to Sunrise: “I fully respect that those players who are standing down, don’t want to play in this game, that is their decision to make, but in saying that, I’m not saying I respect that decision.
“The Pride round is about inclusion, it’s about welcoming people… that’s what the Pride round fundamentally is.
“We can’t forget where most of this impact is going to be felt, and that’s young kids out in the suburbs or people dealing with their sexuality… there are consequences that are potentially quite catastrophic.”
The rugby team’s head coach, Des Hasler, stated in a press conference on Tuesday (26 July) that he “accepts” the players’ decision, and apologised for not telling them about the jersey sooner, saying that players only found out about the outfits on Monday.
“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,” Hasler said.
“Sadly, this poor management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people.
“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.”
He added that certain players “are not wearing the jersey as it conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs and I am concerned for their welfare.”
“Their spirituality is a central part of their well-being,” he continued. “The players will not play on Thursday and we accept their decision.”
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles has confirmed that the game will go ahead on Thursday, and that “several new faces” will be taking part.
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