'Significant mistakes': Manly coach apologises, acknowledges pride jersey execution was 'poor'

Des Hasler said he is concerned for the welfare of the seven rugby league players who stood down from Thursday's match because they do not want to wear the pride jersey, due to religious and cultural reasons.

Composite image of Des Hasler and a pride jersey

Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler has apologised for the club's failure to execute the pride jersey without consulting with the team's players. Source: AAP

Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler has apologised to players and the wider community for the rollout of a pride jersey that has landed the club in controversy.

The Sea Eagles launched the first-ever rugby league pride jersey on Monday to represent the LGBTIQ+ community for Thursday's NRL match against the Sydney Roosters. The jersey features a rainbow design, generally known as a symbol of LGBTIQ+ pride.

But the significance of the move has been shrouded in drama after seven players told the Sydney-based club's management they will miss the important game that could impact the team's chances of making the finals.
In a personal announcement to reporters, Hasler said players should have been consulted before the jersey was launched, which overshadowed a significant milestone for the club.

He revealed no coaching staff or players had prior knowledge of the jersey before it was launched.

"The jersey's 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.

"Our intent was to be caring and compassionate towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily. However, instead of enhancing tolerance, and acceptance, we may have hindered this. This was the opposite of our intent.

"We wish to sincerely apologise for significant mistakes we have made."

Hasler aired his concerns for the wellbeing of the seven players who are facing criticism for their religious decision to distance themselves from the pride jumper.

"They 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 wellbeing ... these young men are strong in their beliefs and convictions and we will give them the space and support they require."

Albanese weighs in on controversy

Ahead of , Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was important that all Australians were respected, and encouraged the club's attempt to promote inclusivity.
"I certainly hope this is resolved - it’s a good thing sport is more inclusive," he told reporters.

The prime minister praised his friend and former Sea Eagles player, Ian Roberts, who in 1995 became the first top-level rugby league player 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," he said.
"It’s important that in Australian society we respect everyone for who they are."

Sport Minister Anika Wells has also indicated her support for the jersey with a tongue-in-cheek tweet referencing a hip-hop song hailed for promoting marriage equality.

"As Minister for Sport I’ve been asked to comment on the Manly Sea Eagles, club uniforms are a matter for clubs but I think Macklemore said it best already - it’s all the Same Love," Ms Wells tweeted.

Why are the players boycotting the jersey?

The seven players - Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley - are unable to wear the jersey due to religious and cultural beliefs.

The issue prompted a lengthy meeting of Sea Eagles management on Monday night, where it was again requested that players wear the "Everyone in League" design.

Six of the seven players are of Pasifika heritage, a community with strong ties to their Christian faith.

Jioji Ravulo, chair of social work and social studies at the University of Sydney, said that many Pasifika peoples' involvement in their church had an "impact on the way they view the world around them".

Having studied Pasifika communities with the NRL, he said more inclusive, open discussions around cultural awareness and gender diversity were critical in expanding the game's inclusivity.
The players have also come under fire for wearing a jersey that promotes alcohol and betting services but they refuse to wear a rainbow.

But Professor Ravulo said the difference is that tensions around sexuality in the Pasifika community are not discussed.

"Prior to colonisation in the Pacific Islands, many of us as, as sexual beings, our sexuality was fluid. So we've actually learned a lot of these labels and we've learned a lot of these rigid views on sexuality from white Western perspectives," he told SBS News.

Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V'Landys told 2GB that Manly had erred in not consulting the players and working with them collaboratively and was now dealing with the repercussions.

But he said the NRL was open to launching a Pride round in the future and supported Manly's stance, even if it has massive implications for the club that is at risk of not making the top eight finals if it does not perform this round.

"We have freedoms but we have policies. And every player that plays the game is aware of our policies. If they want to take that stance, so be it, but we're not ever going to take a backwards step in the inclusivity policy we have," he told reporters.

He said NRL is the "greatest game for all, not just for a select few", drawing on his experiences of feeling included in the game as a young boy.

"I had a difficulty in being accepted as a migrant and rugby league accepted me. It was inclusive back then and it's inclusive now."

Professor Ravulo said education was a critical component in ensuring all voices were heard, including both Pasifika and members of the LGBTIQ+ community.

"If we're expecting the game to be inclusive of our Pacific perspectives and expressions, part of our responsibility as citizens within the game and the broader community to also lean into other areas of diversity," he said.
A man speaking.
Ian Roberts was the first rugby league player to come out as gay. Source: SBS News / Insight

'Breaks my heart'

Roberts, who has been rallying the league for three years to incorporate pride inclusivity in the game, said the player revolt "breaks my heart".

The former Kangaroo and Sea Eagles star remains the only Australian male professional rugby league player to have come out.

He told Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper: "It's sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, this isn't unfamiliar."

He suspected that religious pushback was the reason why NRL has not incorporated a Pride Round - a concept that the AFL and AFLW celebrate every year.

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

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he added: "I'm all about education ... I would love, given the opportunity, to be able to sit down at a table with those guys and just have an open conversation with them, to try to explain what a pride round means, particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community, what it means to us."

The pride jerseys were sold out online less than 24 hours after launch in all men's and women's sizes, with only junior versions of the strip available.

Earlier this year, AFLW player Haneen Zreika rather than wear Greater Western Sydney's pride guernsey, citing religious beliefs.

With AAP.

7 min read
Published 26 July 2022 at 7:25am, updated 26 July 2022 at 3:11pm
By Rayane Tamer
Source: SBS News