UpFront: Manly Sea Eagles jersey boycott sees division win over unity

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about shirts in the past week.

Over in Australia, Manly Sea Eagles’ attempt at a rainbow-themed jersey brought a very polarised reaction.

The NRL club was left without seven of its players for last week’s game, which was lost, inevitably against Sydney Roosters, after they refused to wear the one-off shirt.

In a difficult press conference, Manly coach Des Hasler and his captain Daly Cherry-Evans read a statement that apologised for the way they handled the initiative as much as it defended the principle behind it in the first place.

Lack of consultation was cited as the reason for the players refusing to play, but religious and cultural beliefs really lie at the heart of it.

The fact that not one of the seven – and let’s name them here: Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley – have spoken publicly yet to justify their decision has hardly helped matters.

Some will no doubt agree with Keegan Hirst that this appears a simple case of “homophobia hiding behind religion”.

The shirt’s message was intended to advocate “diversity and inclusion” in very general terms. It’s such a shame that it became divisive rather than unifying, primarily because club officials had failed to consult the players to explain the object of the exercise.

The one thing we should all be able to agree on is that there is no justifiable excuse for treating any individual with less respect than any other, in any walk of life, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or personal characteristics.

Closer to home, there was also a decidedly mixed reaction to the release of England’s new shirt for the World Cup.

The strip does away with white and red, in favour of white and blue, and the colour scheme is too close to that of Scotland for many an Englishman to stomach.

The criticism from some quarters is that it simply ‘doesn’t look like an England kit’.

But it does show one thing, however. For all the ridicule of international Rugby League, the England brand is one that fans do care about, even if they hadn’t realised it until now.

That said, if England’s teams go all the way at the World Cup, blue might just catch on…

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