An Australian rugby league club has apologized for its “mismanagement” of the release of its pride jersey after several players said they would boycott playing in it.
The National Rugby League’s (NRL) Manly Warringah Sea Eagles announced a special, one-off shirt in which all the white spaces on the traditional kit would be replaced by rainbow colors to help promote inclusivity.
However, a day after the jersey was revealed, several of Manly’s players said they would not play in the game against the Sydney Roosters on Thursday because they were not consulted about the kit, citing religious and cultural differences, according to ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys.
And on Tuesday, in a remorseful press conference, Manly coach Des Hasler apologized for how the jersey launch was handled, as well as for not consulting with his players.
“The intent of the rainbow color application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion … embracing all groups who feel marginalized, face discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice,” Hasler told reporters.
“The jersey’s intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ movements. Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor. There was little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club.
“Sadly, this poor mismanagement has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people. We have even adversely affected our playing group, a wonderful group of people comprising of many different races and cultural backgrounds.
“We wish to sincerely apologize for the mistakes we have made. We wish to apologize to the minority groups within the community who embrace the rainbow colors as a symbol of pride in who they are and what they stand for.
“We wish to apologize to the LGBTQ community who embrace the rainbow color for pride and advocacy and human rights issues. We accept your cultural beliefs and hope that you can accept our apology.”
Hasler confirmed that the players would not feature in Thursday’s game against the Roosters, but the club would continue to wear the ‘Everyone in League’ jersey.
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans, who was sat alongside Hasler for the press conference, said none of his teammates or staff were made aware of the kit before it was launched, but explained it was intended to “represent diversity and inclusion for all.”
He also said he would be “proudly wearing the jersey to try to endorse inclusiveness and diversity.”
The matter arose before the NRL’s annual ‘Women in League’ round of fixtures, which is used to highlight the women working in the game. Hasler apologized for threatening to overshadow the important initiative.
V’landys said he believed Australian rugby league was an inclusive sport.
“Let me say this, though, that one thing I take pride in in rugby league is that we treat everyone the same. We’re all human beings. It doesn’t matter what your color is, what your sexual orientation is or race is, we’re all equal,” V’landys said at Tuesday’s Harvey Norman Women in League Breakfast.
“We’ll never ever take a backward step in having our sport inclusive but, at the same time, we will not disrespect those players’ freedoms, and they’ve got those freedoms.
“If they don’t wish to play then I respect that. They are well-aware of our policy in inclusion and we take pride in that. That’s our stance at the moment.”