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Pacific reacts to NRL pride jersey drama

Pacific connected churches and leaders have given mixed reactions to seven players standing down from the Manly Sea Eagles NRL team, after refusing to wear the rainbow gay pride jersey because of their religious and cultural beliefs.

Some churches in the Pacific have come out in support of the players while others have decided to keep quiet on the contentious issue.

Some point out that the transgender culture is a part of the Polynesian culture and they were astounded when the players took the decision to boycott the game.

Reverend Dr Ma’afu Palu, from the Tongan Evangelical Wesleyan Church in Sydney’s south-west at Greenacre, believes it is important the NRL stars don’t conceal their personal views on sexuality.

Other Polynesian churches based in Australia have supported the decision of the players. Reverend Hedley Fihaki, the Tonga-born National Chair of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, said the NRL club has no right to force their particular ideology on all the players.

“I am very proud of them for standing up against the strong push to embrace something that we cannot,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Methodist Church in Fiji president Iliesa Vunisawai said he would not comment on the matter, while churches in Samoa and Tonga have opted to keep quiet on the matter despite several requests to comment.

Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans at a press conference. Picture – Manly Waringah Sea Eagles Twitter

The seven players are Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley. Apart from Saab who is of indigenous Australian and Nigerian background, all other players have either Tongan or Samoan ancestry, however none of these players were born in Tonga or Samoa.

They were either born in Australia or New Zealand.

The decision for the new jersey was made without consulting the players and all those who have given their views on the matter feel that was the starting point and the players should have been consulted.

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Former Manly great Ian Roberts who is the first NRL player to come out and say he is gay said this was a conversation that needed to take place.

For Roberts, this was something he was looking forward to however he said he respected the decision by the players.

The contentious pride jersey. Picture – Manly Waringah Sea Eagles Twitter

“I wish I could sit around a table with those players and explain that unfortunately there are kids out in the suburbs, out in the regions today, who might not have heard many stories in the last month, but I can promise you they heard this story.”

Former league player and journalist Paul Kent has told media in Australia that the club has hung out the players to dry after failing to discuss the matter properly before making a decision to wear the rainbow jersey.

The pride jersey and its rejection is not new for Australian sports. Last year AFL Women’s player Haneen Zreika declined to don the jersey on religious grounds.

In 2015, Wallaby Israel Folau was controversially sacked by Rugby Australia for making anti-gay posts on social media, while former Fijian rugby league player Jone Wesele said just as the LGBT community has rights so do the players.

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