Seven players from Australian rugby league side Manly Sea Eagles will not play this week after refusing to wear the club's one-off Pride jersey due to "cultural and religious" beliefs, the club's coach revealed today.
The Sydney-based Sea Eagles will don the rainbow-themed uniforms for a crucial match against the Sydney Roosters on Thursday, a move unveiled earlier this week to promote inclusivity and respect.
It is the first time a club in the National Rugby League has had a Pride jersey, which shows support for the LGBTQ community.
But Manly coach Des Hasler apologised for "the mistakes we have made" and its fallout, saying it was a "significant mistake" for the club not to consult with players.
"None of the coaching staff nor the players had prior knowledge of the jersey. They are not wearing the jersey as it conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs," Hasler told a press conference.
"The intent of the rainbow colour application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion for all, utilising the symbolic colours of pride to embrace all groups who feel marginalised and faced discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice.
"The jersey 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.
"There was little consultation or collaboration with key stakeholder, both inside and outside the club. Sadly, this poor management … has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people. In particular, those groups whose human rights we were, in fact, attempting to support.
"We have even adversely affected our player group, a wonderful group of people comprising of many different racial and cultural backgrounds. We wish to sincerely apologise for the mistakes we have made."
Captain Daly Cherry-Evans said he would proudly wear the jersey on Thursday night, and the kit has already sold out on the club's shop.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys told reporters that he respected the players' position, but that Manly could have "handled it better".
"I think that they showed some great leadership in supporting their players and that's what we should do. But at the same time, recognise that sport is inclusive and is for everybody," V'landys said.
Similar initiatives have been part of some Australian rules football teams for several years, such as the Sydney Swans and St Kilda, who played a Pride Game in June.
However, earlier this year, Haneen Zreika of the Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL women's side, opted to not play in the competition's Pride round citing her faith.
"I certainly hope this is resolved," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday.
"It's a good thing that sport is more inclusive... It's important in Australian society that we respect everyone for who they are."