Rugby League boss Peter V'landys has made the stunning admission that the NRL could consider a Pride Round in 2023, despite the Manly rainbow jersey debacle earlier in the year.
Seven Manly players boycotted their mid-season game against the Sydney Roosters in protest at wearing a pride-themed rainbow-coloured jersey, citing their religious and cultural beliefs.
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The backlash that ensued saw it become one of the biggest controversies of the NRL season, with the Sea Eagles failing to win a single game after the boycott and coach Des Hasler eventually sacked as a result.
Manly star Josh Aloiai has indicated he would boycott wearing a pride jersey again in 2023 if the club went down that similar path.
Aloiai revealed that he and some of the other Manly boycotters received hate messages and even death threats in the wake of their move, however there was also an outpouring of support from within the game - particularly amongst the large community of NRL players who share the same religious and cultural beliefs.
Despite acknowledging the potential minefield the NRL faces if it does introduce a Pride Round for 2023, ARL Commission chair V'landys told AAP that discussions about it were nevertheless taking place.
The draw for 2023 could be revealed as soon as this week, as the league work around a myriad of stadium challenges and introduction of a 17th team.
When it is released there will be no dedicated Pride or Inclusion Round, after the topic was first floated during Manly's rainbow jersey fiasco in July, but V'landys revealed it's not completely off the table.
"That's still all to be sorted out. We were always going to look at those things in the off-season, V'landys said.
"We have plenty of time, we have 26 rounds and we don't start for three or four months. That will be discussed at the next couple of Commission meetings. There has been discussion, but no final decisions made."
Peter V'landys wants NRL to be separate from politics
V'landys was at pains to point out that the NRL is keen to keep out of politics and argued that the beauty of the game lies in its ability to offer an escape for rugby league fans.
At the same time, the league has previously taken stances on the Yes vote in 2017, with signs of support for marriage equality as Macklemore performed Same Love at the grand final.
"From our end we have always said we want to respect everyone's views. We don't want to get into politics. The reason people watch rugby league is to escape, they don't watch it because you have a political persuasion," V'landys added.
"We want to keep it as much as an escapism sport as possible. But respecting each other, I don't think that's political."
If the NRL do go ahead with a Pride Round, there is also the risk that the issues Manly faced will be experienced across most clubs.
Other teams have expressed fears to AAP that some of their players would be in the same boat as Aloiai and the 'Manly 7', in that they would be unwilling to endorse a Pride Round.
But the likes of Trent Robinson at the Roosters and Manly owner Scott Penn have backed the idea, with Pride Rounds played in other sports.
"There are ways you can do it where you don't upset anyone. If we do it, we have format to do it the right way. It's all about respecting each other," V'landys said.
"We have to respect that (some people) have a different view to the rest of us. The most important thing in my eyes is we're all equal, it doesn't matter what colour, what creed or sexual orientation."
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