Fallout continues from Manly Sea Eagles’ rainbow jersey boycott

Seven players boycotted a key Manly Sea Eagles NRL match over the club’s decision to wear a rainbow shirt – with the fallout continuing to rumble.

Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley all refused to play in Manly’s 20-10 home defeat by Sydney Roosters after the club released a one-off kit, featuring rainbow stripes, to “represent diversity and inclusion for all”.

In a pre-match press conference, Manly head coach Des Hasler apologised for the club’s “poor” execution of the initiative and the “little consultation or collaboration” with players, adding that they had refused to wear the shirt because “it conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs”.

Manly stuck with the shirt, which was the first of its kind worn by any team in the NRL and rapidly sold out in the club shop, with the seven players told to stay away from the match on safety grounds.

After the game, Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn said the club would “make no apologies for why we were motivated to” wear the shirt, and suggested that they would do so again next season.

He told 9News of the seven players: “I think they were somewhat frustrated that it went as far as it did without consultation, and we respect that.”

He said they would be happy to wear the shirt in future.

However, this was soon contradicted by a representative of the seven, who told 9News that it was “totally untrue” that they would “backflip on religious beliefs”.

Keegan Hirst, the first player to come out as gay while playing in the British game, described their views as “homophobia hiding behind religion” when speaking to Sky Sports.

Ian Roberts, who became the first player in the sport to come out in 1995 while at Manly, said the players’ actions were “disappointing”.

“I feel for all those kids in the suburbs who are dealing with sexuality issues or sexual identity. All those kids would be feeling a little bit less today,” he told Australian TV show The Project.

But he added: “We can’t vilify any of these players. Their right to refuse to play should be respected as well.”

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