Anglican Archbishop Kanishka Raffel said Sydney had a pluralistic community that had seen rapid social change. “We are still having a conversation and working out how we are going to have respectful difference,” he said.
Many in the pride community were frustrated by Manly’s failure to consult the players over the jersey, which replaced the traditional white stripe against the maroon background with rainbow colours, but supported its intentions.
Coach Des Hasler has apologised for the lack of consultation and communication with the players, and said he was concerned about the welfare of the men who chose to boycott the game.
Andrew Purchas, from Pride in Sport, said Manly would be the first rugby league team to play in a pride jersey, even though there was a precedent in other codes. “It’s a pity that the players have taken this approach [of boycotting the game],” he said.
“We respect the right for players to have their own views. It’s quite a nuanced topic and it needs to be done comprehensively, [and] needs to be supported by a whole bunch of other activities as well.
“Clearly [the furore] is not great for those who are struggling with their sexuality. I would encourage them to look at the players who are wearing the jersey.”
In an opinion piece for the Herald, former Manly player Ian Roberts – the first gay rugby league player to be open about his sexuality – said he was angered by the players’ response. However, the only way forward was for each side to try to understand the other.
“We need to make people like these players understand that we are not a threat, that we are people just like them,” he said.
The chief executive of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, Dan Leo, said players should not be forced to support a position with which they did not agree. “The power of the rainbow flag has always been that it’s been promoted by people who want to wear it, not forced to wear it,” he said.
“If Manly said we were promoting Christianity without consulting the playing group, if everyone had to wear jerseys saying ‘We Love Jesus’, there would be equal protest. You can’t impose that on people without proper consultation.”
Leo also hoped the issue would not be regarded as just a Pacific Islander one. “There are a lot of people who identify as Christian in this country.”
Jioji Ravulo, Australia’s first Pasifika professor in social sciences at Sydney University, has been working with the NRL for more than 10 years. He said that sexuality among many Pacific communities was fluid before the missionaries arrived.
“I also believe Pasifika people need to be proud of our pre-colonial views of queerness, and reclaim such views as part of our ability to love our neighbour as ourselves.”
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