SYDNEY (AP) — Seven Manly Sea Eagles players have withdrawn from a National Rugby League match in Australia because they’re unwilling to wear their club’s inclusion jersey.
The jersey has rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar — in place of the regular white sections — to support LGBTQ inclusion in sports, and the club plans to use it for one game against Sydney Roosters.
Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler on Tuesday said seven players advised club officials that wearing the pride jersey 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 require.
“The playing group are solid and understanding of each other’s views. As a club we will wear the jersey on Thursday night.”
Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley are not available for selection on Thursday. NRL squads contain 13 starting players and four on the interchange bench for each game.
Hasler apologized for the fallout which stemmed from the club’s lack of advance consultation with the playing group.
“Our intent was to be caring towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily,” Hasler said. “Sadly this poor management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, in particular those groups whose human rights we in fact attempting to support.
“We wish to apologize to the LGBTQ community who embrace the rainbow colors, who use these colors for pride and advocacy and human rights issues.”
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said he understood the players’ choices, based on religious and cultural differences, but pushed for inclusion and acceptance in the sport.
“One thing I take pride in with rugby league is we treat everyone the same,” V’landys said. “It doesn’t matter your color, sexual orientation or race. We’re all equal.