Manly break silence on pride jersey uproar dividing NRL

Manly Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn says the club will push ahead with plans to don pride jerseys for the match against the Roosters. Pic: Getty/Sea Eagles
Manly Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn says the club will push ahead with plans to don pride jerseys for the match against the Roosters. Pic: Getty/Sea Eagles

Manly owner Scott Penn insists the NRL club is "committed to inclusion" after confirming they will push ahead with their controversial rainbow jersey plans.

The decision by the Sea Eagles to become the first club in NRL history to compete in a rainbow jersey has left the club in turmoil, with seven players set to boycott their next match in protest.

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Manly announced on Sunday night they would wear a rainbow design for the match - generally known for representing the LGBTQIA community - which sparked opposition from several players on cultural or religious grounds.

On Tuesday, Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler fronted the media to apologise for the club's failure to consult the players about the jersey design, which bears rainbow colours usually associated with the LGBTQI community, and the impact the fallout has had on the wider community.

Hasler admitted the club made “a significant mistake” by not consulting the playing group before making the decision about the rainbow jerseys.

He said the club accepted the decision of the players which rules them out of a match between two sides on the fringe of the top eight.

"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 the players ruled out.

Hasler said he supported the use of the jersey, but also had concerns for the welfare of his players.

"They are not wearing the jersey as it conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs," Hasler said.

"And I am concerned for their welfare. Their spirituality is part of their welfare."

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The Sea Eagles will have to name a team for Thursday's match by 4pm on Tuesday, with James Segeyaro one man expected to be brought in.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys said he understood the players' choices, but pushed for inclusion and acceptance in the sport.

"I respect the players' choice. They have religious and cultural differences and that is the thing about Australia, we all have those freedoms," V'landys said.

"But one thing I take pride in with rugby league is we treat everyone the same.

"We are all human beings, it doesn't matter your colour, sexual orientation or race. We're all equal.

"And we'll never take a backward step in having our sport inclusive. But at the same time we will not disrespect our players' freedoms."

The player revolt has been branded "disgraceful" by many fans across the rugby league world, but the Manly club says it will stand by its players and their beliefs.

The club's owner and chairman Scott Penn admits that players were put in a "tough position", but insists the jerseys were meant to represent inclusivity of people from all walks of life, not just the LGBTQIA community.

“It was never just about pride. It was about saying we want everyone in the game and making them feel they can get involved. Players have been put in a tough position," Penn told the Herald from New York.

“We’re not going to force them to play, but we’re committed to the jersey and we’re committed to inclusion. We’re not walking away from our position. And we respect their beliefs.

“It’s just disappointing we’re here. We don’t want those players to be outcasts, but as a club we celebrate and support everyone. We have only done this from a good-hearted point of view.”

NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent said on Monday night that blame lay on the club for not consulting with its players before unveiling the pride jersey initiative, with ARLC chairman Peter V'landys echoing those sentiments on Tuesday morning.

“It should have been done collaboratively,” he told 2GB. “I’m the first person that doesn’t want sport to be politicised because we go to sport to escape the day-to-day problems. So we don’t want to have politics involved. But this isn’t politics, recognising and respecting fellow human beings and being inclusive, I do not believe is political.

“We respect everyone. It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, what your belief in marriage is, what your race is, what your colour is, we respect you as a human being. The game’s policy has been that for many years, and it won’t change.”

Rainbow jersey move leaves NRL world divided

The controversial issue has sparked fierce divisions across the rugby league community, with some calling Manly's move "woke" and insisting social politics should play no part in sport.

Many have praised the players for standing up for their cultural and religious beliefs, while others have brandished them "disgraceful" and hypocritical - highlighting the fact the club's major sponsor is a betting agency and home ground is named after an alcohol company.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also weighed in on drama at Manly on Tuesday morning, telling reporters he hoped the club could sort it out.

Seen here, Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during a press conference at the Australia Pacific Training Coalition Centre.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has weighed in on the rainbow jersey controversy at the Manly Sea Eagles. Pic: Getty (WILLIAM WEST via Getty Images)

"I certainly hope this is resolved - it’s a good thing sport is more inclusive," the Prime Minister said.

Mr Albanese also made special mention of his friend and Sea Eagles legend Ian Roberts, who in 1995 became the first man in Australian rugby league to come out as gay.

"Ian Roberts showed incredible courage - he wasn’t the first gay man to play rugby league I’ll give the tip - he was the first to have courage to come out and that pave the way for others to do so," the Prime Minister added.

"It’s important that in Australian society we respect everyone for who they are."

Roberts himself admitted that the player revolt at Manly "breaks" his heart.

Openly gay Manly legend Ian Roberts says it breaks his heart that players at the club are refusing to wear the pride jersey. Pic: AAP
Openly gay Manly legend Ian Roberts says it breaks his heart that players at the club are refusing to wear the pride jersey. Pic: AAP

The former Kangeroo and Sea Eagles star told Sydney's Daily Telegraph: "It's sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, this isn't unfamiliar. I did wonder whether there would be any religious pushback. That's why I think the NRL have never had a Pride round."

"I can promise you every young kid on the northern beaches who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this."

The issue could not have come at a worse time for Manly, with the Sea Eagles' clash against the Roosters looming large in the hunt to qualify for finals footy.

Manly were already missing players ahead of the critical match against eighth-placed Roosters, who only head the Sea Eagles by for-and-against.

with AAP

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