Seven players from the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles rugby league team have announced their intent to boycott Thursday night’s game against Sydney City Roosters after the club revealed they would be playing in a special rainbow-decorated jersey to support LGBTQI pride.
The seven – Josh Aloiai, Tolutau Koula, Haumole Olakau’atu, Jason Saab, Josh Schuster, Toafofoa Sipley and Christian Tuipulotu – are considering boycotting the round 20 clash on 28 July due to their “religious and cultural” convictions that oppose the endorsement of homosexuality.
The match is scheduled to take place at the Sea Eagles’ home ground, 4 Pines Park in Brookvale. Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler is reported to have told the dissenting players that he understands their concerns and supports their decision to call for a boycott of the game.
LGBTQI is a collective term for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or those questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation), and intersex.
The club made a surprise announcement on Monday 25 July that the team would be wearing the jersey – titled ‘Everyone in League’ – for a one-off match, which they declared was intended “to celebrate diversity and inclusivity” in the National Rugby League (NRL).
Players Kieran Foran, Reuben Garrick and Sean Keppie were presented wearing the jersey, which sees the usual quartet of white strips paired above and below the primary sponsor’s logo replaced with rainbow strips. No other text or markings signifying the link with LGBTQI pride appears on the jersey.
The rainbows allegedly angered the seven players, who, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, then telephoned club officials announcing their objections to wearing the modified top.
Although the seven rebels claim they were not consulted prior to the club’s surprise announcement, and would prefer to play in their regular uniforms, the NRL administration doesn’t permit individual players to wear jerseys different to their teammates.
Manly Sea Eagles’ home stadium, Brookvale Oval, is known as 4 Pines Park – through a four-year deal with 4 Pines Brewery (due to expire in 2025) – and their principal sponsor is Pointsbet, the online betting company, a licensed corporate bookmaker operating in Australia and the USA.
No Pride-themed round
Several rounds of the NRL’s 25-week season calendar are ‘themed’, including the Indigenous (usually round 12), ANZAC (round 7), Easter (round 6), and ‘Magic’ (where all teams play at the same venue). Clubs design single-use jerseys to be worn at the respective themed matches, which, for example, incorporates Aboriginal artwork during the Indigenous round.
There is no LGBTQI-themed round, so Manly Sea Eagles are the first NRL club to wear a jersey celebrating gay/lesbian/trans pride in the 134-year history of Australian rugby league competition.
The Sea Eagles were the first team to feature an ‘out’ gay man, Ian Roberts, who publicly declared his sexuality in 1995. Roberts is expected to attend Thursday night’s match.
The Sea Eagles are currently placed ninth on the NRL ladder, whereas the Roosters are eighth. If Sea Eagles fail to dislodge the Roosters this Thursday, the latter may go into the finals matches at the season’s end where the top eight teams enter a knock-out competition leading up to the Grand Final.
If the Sea Eagles fail to ascend the ladder, their 2022 match season is over.
Sports Editor and Beaches Champion founder Matt Cleary will be attending a press conference at midday today for an update from the club. We will update accordingly.