Rugby league-Manly players set to end NRL boycott over pride jersey

by Reuters
Friday, 29 July 2022 10:57 GMT

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles players wear inclusivity-initiative Pride jerseys during a rugby league match against the Sydney Roosters in Sydney, Australia, July 28, 2022. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts via REUTERS

Image Caption and Rights Information

Seven Manly players stood down from the National Rugby League match rather than wear the jersey, which has rainbow bands replacing the team's white stripes

MELBOURNE, July 28 (Reuters) - Manly Sea Eagles players who boycotted Thursday's match against Sydney Roosters rather than play in a pride jersey have agreed to wear the shirt from next season as long as they are consulted in the process, owner and chairman Scott Penn told Australian media.

Seven players - Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau'atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley - stood down from the National Rugby League match rather than wear the jersey, which has rainbow bands replacing the team's white stripes, symbolising inclusiveness.

The decision to boycott, which Manly coach Des Hasler said was taken on "religious and cultural" grounds, drew criticism from LGBTQ groups and the club's first openly gay player Ian Roberts.

Penn said the players' main issue was not the jersey itself but the lack of consultation regarding their stance.

"I think they were somewhat frustrated that it went as far as it did without consultation, and we respect that," Penn told Nine News on Thursday.

"We are all about inclusiveness, so we will continue this theme."

Penn said in a statement before the match that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to "make a difference to the mental health of members of the LGBTQ+ community".

Earlier on Thursday, Manly had barred the seven players from their home stadium for the match over safety concerns after holding a meeting with police.

Manly officials spoke with police on Wednesday and decided the players' presence at Sydney's Brookvale Oval would pose a threat to their safety.

"For the safety and wellbeing of the players, the club has decided that it's best that they don't attend the game," Manly interim Chief Executive Gary Wolman told The Australian newspaper.

New South Wales Police said officers had conducted a "risk assessment" and were satisfied with "the strategies in place to mitigate any risk to the players and attendees' safety and security."

They added that police had received no formal reports of threats made toward players.

The players, most of whom are Polynesian Christians, have been branded bigots and homophobic on social media.

However, the seven have also been praised by church leaders and defended by conservative pundits who have pilloried Manly for "virtue signalling" and condemned the club for failing to consult the players over the pride jersey.

Gay athletes have said the boycott could discourage sports people from coming out for fear they might lack support in club change-rooms.

"To not have this support from your team mates can be devastating to a closeted player," local soccer player Josh Cavallo, who came out last year, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Toby Davis)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

-->