The president of a New Zealand gay rugby team says he is shocked by the decisions by some players from the Manly Sea Eagles to sit out Thursday’s game because of the rainbow edition of their jersey.
Brad Christensen of Ngāti Raukawa is the club president of the NZ Falcons, a gay rugby team in Auckland. The team was established in 2013 with an aim of creating a safe space for rainbow rugby players to take the field.
Sea Eagles management said on Sunday that all players would wear the pride jersey in Thursday’s match-up but some players have attacked club management, saying a social media post was the first they had heard of it.
New Zealanders Josh Aloiai, Toafofoa Sipley and Christian Tuipulotu along with Jason Saab, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau'atu and Tolutau Koula say they won’t play wearing the jerseys, citing religious grounds which condemn homosexual activity.
Christensen says the players need to be sanctioned as players would be for racism and other big issues and it sends the wrong message to young people struggling with gender and sexual identity.
“When we think about racism and other big issues, people make a big stand and are sanctioned appropriately.”
“If we think about the recent incident with David Kidwell vaping in a toilet, he's been sanctioned. If we think about historically how the NRL and clubs have responded to sex scandals, I believe that this is up there in terms of the disrespect to a certain part of the community”
He adds that this will have significant ramifications for rangatahi and for the Pasifika community.
Minister Willie Jackson says he was sad to learn of the players' decision but he won’t go as far to say if the players should be sanctioned.
“I think they should be sat down and spoken to. You don’t want to kick them right out. But those young fellows have let down a lot of people,” he said.
Sports Minister Grant Robertson, who is openly gay, expressed his disappointment.
"I think a lot of sports have tried very hard over recent times to create more inclusive environments. The NRL hasn't yet had a Pride round before as far as I understand, so it's a really important step forward," he said.
Christensen says despite the backlash, a lot of ground has been made up.
“From my experience with the Falcons and the wider community here in Auckland is that we've seen a huge shift and policy change. Still there's a long way to go.”