News, Culture & Society

Manly Sea Eagles pride jersey: Gay club legend Ian Roberts says dispute is ‘sad and uncomfortable’

Seven Manly players are set to step down from Thursday’s crunch match against the Sydney Roosters because of the club’s rainbow-striped gay pride jersey, saying that wearing it would be against their religious beliefs.

The Sea Eagles unveiled the jumper – called Everyone in League – on Monday to promote inclusivity of LGBT+ people in the NRL.

But star players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley are refusing to run out wearing the ‘inclusive’ jersey on religious grounds.

The players reportedly met club officials on Monday night to try to reach a compromise, but none was forthcoming, meaning the club will need to promote seven reserve-grade players to make up numbers.

Club legend Ian Roberts, who in 1995 was the first-ever rugby league player to come out as gay, said the embarrassing situation will be felt most by the area’s LGBTQI+ community.

‘I try to see it from all perspectives but this breaks my heart,’ Roberts told the Daily Telegraph.

‘It’s sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, this isn’t unfamiliar. I did wonder whether there would be any religious push back. That’s why I think the NRL have never had a Pride round.

‘I can promise you every young kid on the northern beaches who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this.’

Club legend Ian Roberts, who in 1995 was the first-ever rugby league player to come out as gay, said the embarrassing situation will be felt most by the area’s LGBTQI+ community

Manly players Sean Keppie (left), Kieran Foran (middle) and Reuben Garrick posed with the club's Everyone in League jersey, which was unveiled on Monday

Manly players Sean Keppie (left), Kieran Foran (middle) and Reuben Garrick posed with the club’s Everyone in League jersey, which was unveiled on Monday

Manly were preparing to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday in an attempt to try and resolve the ugly rift, which has left them in a precarious position ahead of the Round 20 clash at Brookvale Oval, also known as 4 Pines Park.

But with a media storm brewing players and officials brought the meeting forward to Monday night.

The 90-minute sit down ended with coach Des Hasler telling the players he understood they were put in a difficult position and that he supported their decision not to play.

The jumper at the centre of the dispute features rainbow colours replacing the traditional white piping on the maroon background, making Manly the first NRL club to wear a pride jersey in rugby league’s 134-year history. 

It was understood Monday night’s meeting floated the idea of the players who objected to the new design be allowed to wear the standard jersey instead, but NRL regulations stipulate all players must be wearing the same playing strip. 

The Sea Eagles wore a vintage kit on Friday in their loss against St George Illawarra

The Sea Eagles wore a vintage kit on Friday in their loss against St George Illawarra

Manly winger Jason Saab

Sea Eagles winger Christian Tuipulotu

Manly wingers Jason Saab and Christian Tuipulotu are among the players who oppose wearing the jersey on religious grounds 

Manly are in a precarious position ahead of the Round 20 clash at Brookvale Oval, also known as 4 Pines Park (pictured)

Manly are in a precarious position ahead of the Round 20 clash at Brookvale Oval, also known as 4 Pines Park (pictured)

Sea Eagles star Kieran Foran, Sean Keppie and Reuben Garrick posed with the new jumper, which received the backing Roberts.

‘LGBTIQA people have always been a part of sport but haven’t always been allowed the visibility,’ Roberts said.

‘I have been trying to get the NRL to have a pride round for the past three years and it still hasn’t got the traction it deserves. It saddens me because they think having a float at the Mardi Gras is enough and it’s not.’

At this stage the club has no intention of scrapping the jersey – even as the Sea Eagles are fighting it out for a place in the finals. 

Manly’s interim chief executive Gary Wolman said the club was proud of the initiative and of the message it sent to the community. 

‘The Sea Eagles have such a rich and diverse history in rugby league and in the community,’ he said at the unveiling of the jersey.

‘To be able to bring this concept to life with Dynasty sport is a fantastic achievement and we are pleased to be able to share such an important message that means so much to many people in the community.’

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler must name a 22-man squad for the game by Tuesday afternoon

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler must name a 22-man squad for the game by Tuesday afternoon

Ian Roberts, pictured in 1995 playing for the Manly Sea Eagles, was regarded as one of the toughest forwards of his era

Ian Roberts, pictured in 1995 playing for the Manly Sea Eagles, was regarded as one of the toughest forwards of his era

The feel-good factor following the announcement, however, has long dissipated with reports circulating there was little consultation with the players.

The Sea Eagles wore a retro kit for their loss against St George Illawarra on Friday, but it is understood the NRL will not allow players who oppose the rainbow jersey to wear an alternative jumper. 

Thursday night’s clash could be pivotal for both teams’ finals hopes, with the ninth-placed Sea Eagles trailing the eighth-placed Roosters just on point differential. 

Israel Folau was exiled by Australia three years ago following his homophobic remarks

Israel Folau was exiled by Australia three years ago following his homophobic remarks

Manly must name a 22-man squad for the game by Tuesday afternoon. 

Former Wallabies star Israel Folau famously had his Australia contract torn up in 2019 after he posted a meme on social media which said ‘hell’ awaits homosexuals and other groups he considered as ‘sinners’.

An evangelical Christian, Folau returned to rugby league in France in 2020 and tried to revive his career in the sport in Australia but was blocked by local officials. 

The 33-year-old returned to Test rugby last month, when Tonga took on Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup. 

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk