Manly has so many reasons to be proud.

The Manly Sea Eagles understand pride. So much so that three of their players recently showed their support for a man found guilty of stabbing someone.

Josh Schuster, Josh Aloiai and Haumole Olakau’atu made a 61 symbol during a televised game to show their support for former teammate Manase Fainu who was recently found guilty of stabbing someone outside a Mormon church dance in 2019. The players were apparently displaying their pride in the Sydney suburb of Guildford, postcode 2161, where Fainu and other players grew up. The gesture also earns the players a nomination for The Fronwlow Medal.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while NRL star Jarryd Hayne is the most recent recipient.

61 also refers to suburb-related gang violence in Sydney’s west, which is connected to the argument which led to Fainu stabbing another man.

The same players recently refused to wear the Manly pride jersey in support of the LGBTQIA+ community because this conflicts with their strict religious beliefs, proving that ‘PRIDE’ takes many different forms at Manly.

Another player to publicly support Fainu was New Zealand Warriors player Addin Fonua-Blake, the same Addin Fonua-Blake who was inducted into The Fronwlow Medal Hall of Fame after being found guilty of domestic violence.

Olakau’atu made the symbol to celebrate scoring a try in Manly’s embarrassing loss to the Gold Coast Titans, and after all this controversy, the try was disallowed because Olakau’atu had knocked the ball on.

This year Manly has bungled the pride jersey, seen a former player found guilty of stabbing – and publicly supported on national TV, they have lost convincingly to the team in 16th, and finished out of the top 8. Many NRL fans will be very, very happy.

Image: NuNa

The massive problem facing rugby league and rugby union.

You can’t please all the people all the time, but rugby codes are attempting to do just that. They are attempting to appease the LGBTQIA+ community and the devoutly religious at the same time.

Several Manly players recently refused to play in an upcoming NRL match to protest the club’s rainbow jersey promoting the LGBTQIA+ community, and the incident highlights the dangers of sporting organisations trying to appease every member of the community simultaneously.

Seven players are considering boycotting the game against the Sydney Roosters because they object to the promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights on religious grounds. All seven players are devoutly religious and mostly of Pasifika heritage. Players are also angry that they were not consulted about the ‘rainbow’ jersey and that they learned about it through social media.

Manly is the first NRL club to wear a rainbow jersey, and the incident highlights an issue confronting rugby league and rugby union into the future. The jersey was introduced in order to promote inclusion and diversity, and was created to include ‘everyone’ at the northern beaches club.

But does it include everyone?

Obviously not. It does not ‘include’ devout Christians and players of Pasifika heritage, the latter so strongly opposed to the jersey that they are willing to sit out an important game, and presumably sacrifice match payments. Manly is very, very unlikely to win the game against the Roosters without Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley. (That is, unless the Roosters players of Pasifika heritage also sit out the game in solidarity). It is being called a ‘must win’ game for the Sea Eagles as they try to finish inside the top 8, having already lost superstar Tom Trbojevic through injury.

Furthermore, the jersey is surely an example of bad timing. It will be worn during ‘Women in League’ round, and this debate will take most of the attention away from women and their great contribution to the game.

The conundrum

Does Manly appease a small section of their supporter base, or potential new supporters, or does the club appease an existing group of people on whom they are dependant? Put simply, you can’t win NRL (or Super Rugby) games without Pasifika players.

“Never just about pride”

Manly owner Scott Penn argues the jersey is not just about promoting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, but in the modern context, ‘inclusion and diversity’ is used to welcome members of the LBGTQIA+ community. This is a large community, but it does not encompass everyone. It does not encompass the devoutly religious, and it does not include most rugby league and rugby union players of Pasifika heritage.

What is it really about?

Manly may be genuinely attempting to welcome members of the LGBTQIA+ community into a sport traditionally closed to non-heteronormative people – or the club could simply be chasing the lucrative Pink Dollar.

The issue will plague rugby league and union from now and into the future. Inclusion and diversity is becoming more prominent in social discourse every year, and every major organisation and corporation must declare a public policy on this subject. Sporting codes must also address the issue. At the same time, rugby league and rugby union must welcome and respect the Pasifika community.

Players of Pasifika heritage comprise about 50% of the registered players in the NRL, and the current Wallabies squad includes 16 of 34 players. Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua debuted in Super Rugby in 2022.

The women’s game is also not immune to the issue. In fact, it may be even more susceptible to the clash of two opposing ‘stakeholders’. Pasifika players also comprise a high percentage of players across the two rugby codes in the women’s game, but also includes more players in openly same-sex relationships. Interestingly, only one ARL/NRL player has ever come out as openly gay, and that was former Manly player Ian Roberts. Women’s football, meanwhile, has already experienced a conflict in this regard.

Haneen Zreika refused to wear the pride jersey when her Greater Western Sydney Giants AFLW team played against Western Bulldogs in 2022 because she is a devout Muslim. Zreika sat out that game. The AFL has a far longer history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community than league or union, but was not immune to controversy. The Giants were stuck between reaching out to the LGBTQIA+ community, while appeasing the large Muslim community in their heartland of Western Sydney. That said, the incident passed without a great deal of controversy, especially compared to the controversy which surrounded Israel Folau’s social media comments.

Folau lost his contract with Rugby Australia after posting homophobic comments on social media. Folau held the same views while playing AFL (for the Giants) and NRL. Many former teammates from across the three codes ‘liked’ Folau’s comments and thus endorsed them. Many of those players were of Pasifika heritage.

Rugby Australia relies heavily on Pasifika talent, as outlined above, but also relies heavily on sponsorship dollars, much of which was coming from Qantas at the time of Folau’s faux pas. Qantas proudly welcomes the LGBTQIA+ community and is being run by the openly gay Alan Joyce. One cannot underestimate the influence of sponsors (and the Pink Dollar) in the decisions of sporting clubs regarding diversity and inclusion.

The future

Fellow NRL clubs will surely follow Manly’s precedent. It’s inevitable. Their players will have to make a choice – or be forced to make a choice, and the same applies to players in rugby union, many of whom have Pasifika heritage and are devoutly religious. The rugby codes, meanwhile, will have to negotiate a very complex situation in order to keep up with community attitudes and appease a community which sustains the standard of their ‘product’.

Image: NuNa

What’s the difference between Haneen Zreika and Israel Folau?

AFLW player Haneen Zreika and former AFL player Israel Folau both attracted criticism for their public stance on same-sex relationships, but what is the difference between the two?

Zreika plays for Folau’s former club Greater Western Sydney Giants, and surrounded herself in controversy after refusing to wear a special rainbow jersey promoting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. Folau was eventually kicked out of rugby union, which he played as well as rugby league, because he posted two social media messages which offended the LGBTQIA+ community.

Zreika refused to wear the pride jersey with her Giants teammates due to her strong Muslim faith, and was subsequently left out of the team for the game against Western Bulldogs. Zreika was the first Muslim AFLW player when she debuted in 2019. Folau offended the LGBT+ community due to homophobia grounded in his strong Christian beliefs, and essentially wrote that all homosexuals go to hell.

The role of religion.

Zreika and Folau justified their stance on religious grounds. Zreika said she had a responsibility to represent her faith and community and that she respects people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Does she?

The faith she represents declares homosexuality a sin. The doctrine of the Muslim faith, when applied in society, declares homosexuality a crime which can, in some cases, be punishable by death.

Is Zreika devout?

Zreika chose not to wear the pride jersey due to her devotion. However, she wears the typical AFLW uniform every week and this is far too revealing for a Muslim woman, displaying the limbs and the hair. If Zreika was devout, would she not cover up even when playing sport, as many women from Muslim countries do in many other sports?

Interestingly, she did actually play in the pride round, the week before the jersey was worn, and ran through the traditional AFL banner at the start of the game which celebrated the LGBT+ community, and read:

“Pride round: an inclusive game for all. Everyone is welcome.”

The pride jersey was delayed until the Giants played at home the following week. Thus, did Zreika object to the pride round, or just the jersey? How likely is it that she was criticised by the Muslim community for participating in pride round and felt pressured to make a stance the following week?

To what extent was the decision Zreika’s, and to what extent was the opinion of the Muslim community, and its powerful men, made known to Zreika?

We will probably never know.

Religion also motivated Folau’s comments. The cross-code star posted a message claiming that hell was God’s plan for homosexuals. This attracted enormous criticism from many people, but Folau defended the comments as being true to his strong Christian faith. He was also warned that if he posted another similar message, he would lose his contract with Rugby Australia. He did so, and lost his contract.

Zreika posted a message on social media saying:

“…people are able to respect their right to choose how they live their life as long as they don’t advocate hate and division.”

Folau’s post clearly created hate and division, and this is the major difference between him and Zreika. Throughout the entire ugly process, Folau claimed he should be free to express his views because they are based on his religious beliefs.

Zreika is a Muslim.

Various commentators have suggested that the only difference is that Zreika is a Muslim, and that is why she has not been criticised as strongly as Folau. These commentators suggest that Australians are too scared to criticise Muslims due to political correctness of for fear of being labelled Islamophobic. They also claim these same people have no problems attacking Christians like Folau.

You can’t please all the people all the time…

The governing body has made great efforts to embrace all members of Australian society. They are the first and only major sports code in Australia to host a pride round.

Why?

Out of a genuine respect for the LGBT+ community?

Because they’re chasing the pink dollar?

Because many AFLW players are lesbians? (Are any AFL players gay?)

Political correctness?

For whatever, the AFL is known to include the LGBT+ community. They also embrace the Muslim community, especially in Giants territory. The fact that Zreika plays for the Giants added another complication for the AFL. Western Sydney is home to the majority of Sydney’s Muslim community, and if they are going to support any AFL team, it is the Giants.

The game involving the rainbow jersey, however, was played at Henson Park in Sydney’s inner west, a region famous for embracing gender and sexual diversity.

Was the Zreika case inevitable? Was the AFL bound to find itself in an unwinnable situation by publicly courting two communities which are diametrically opposed? One can only imagine the stressful meetings which must have taken place within the Giants and the AFL who were both desperate to avoid offending either group, while supporting both.

Some AFL fans are Muslim.

Some AFL fans are homosexual.

Some AFL fans don’t like Muslims or homosexuals.

The AFL is trying to appease them all.

It’s not possible to support the LGBT+ community and the Muslim community while Muslims consider homosexuality a sin or a crime. The AFL thinks it can. That said, the AFL could be said to have taken a stand. Zreika was stood down for the game, which punished her and her teammates.

Zreika has the support and respect of her teammates.

Zreika consulted her teammates, spoke to them face to face, and discussed her actions with the Giants and the AFL. Folau posted a spontaneous, offensive and hurtful message on social media, without context. Zreika certainly went about her actions in a far more mature, civilised, intelligent and respectful manner than Folau.

While Zreika reportedly had the support of her teammates, Folau also did, at least after the fact. Many professional footballers, including Gary Ablett Jr, Tim Mannah, Brad Takairangi, Curtis Rona and Taniela Tupou ‘liked’ and endorsed his posts on social media.

It’s only sport

The case also highlights the enormous strain placed on sport in Australia. Sport is so vital to Australian culture that social causes and social conflicts often manifest in sport – which is ultimately supposed to be nothing more than healthy fun. Perhaps Australians are expecting too much of sport as a vehicle for social change.

Haneen Zreika and Israel Folau both offended the LGBTQIA+ community with actions grounded in their strong religious beliefs. Folau was nominated for The Fronwlow Medal, should Zreika also be nominated?

So, what if the difference between them?

Zreika can actually play Aussie Rules.

Image: NuNa

Margaret Court denied Australia’s highest honour.

Controversial tennis star Margaret Court has been ruled ineligible for the greatest prize in Australia on the eve of the country’s national day of celebration. Court and her supporters are furious that she will never win The Frownlow Medal or be inducted into The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame despite a lifetime of bigoted public statements.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while AFL player Elijah Taylor is the most recent recipient.

The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.

Conservative commentators have slammed the decision and attacked the judges of The Frownlow Medal for pandering to woke, left-wing, latte sipping, inner-city progressives.

“This is a disgrace,” blasted her supporters.

“Margaret Court deserves to win the Frownlow or be in the hall of fame, but she hasn’t even been nominated. Israel Folau got nominated twice for his homophobia, and heaps of players from NRL, AFL and Rugby were nominated just for ‘liking’ his comments on social media, but Margaret got nothing,” they argued.

“The simple fact is that if Margaret was a footy player, she’d be in the hall of fame for sure.”

As a tennis player, Court won numerous grand slams and is Australia’s most successful player. Since retiring, however, she has regularly made the news for grossly intolerant statements which are completely out of touch with modern Australian society.

Court’s controversial statements are many, and are targeted especially at gay and lesbian relationships, due to her strong religious beliefs. She once wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper lamenting the decision of fellow Aussie tennis player Casey Dellacqua to have a child within a same-sex relationship.

“It is with sadness that I see that this baby has seemingly been deprived of a father,” she wrote.

Court has also been quoted as saying that transgender children are the work of the devil, and she was branded a racist and a homophobe by fellow tennis legend Martina Navratilova. Further comments linked childhood gender dysphoria to Hitler and communism, and praised the apartheid system of South Africa.

“Even her racism didn’t get her nominated,” stated her supporters. “So many footy players have been nominated for racist comments but again Margaret got nothing from The Frownlow Medal.”

Frownlow judges reminded Court’s supporters that the award is only open to footballers, not tennis players. Instead, the Christian pastor will have to content herself with the Officer of the Order of Australia she already holds, and the upgraded Companion of the Order of Australia she will receive on January 26.

Image: NuNa

Australia’s biggest homophobe fails to win The Frownlow Medal.

Former Rugby Union player Israel Folau has failed in his bid to win The Frownlow Medal, despite posting a homophobic message on social media which sparked a huge social controversy.

Folau claimed that homosexuals will go to Hell, in accordance with his conservative Christian views. The post cost Folau his multi-million dollar contract with Rugby Australia and divided opinion across the country.

The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015 and code-swapper Karmichael Hunt was the most recent recipient

The talented footballer was sacked because he had already been warned about a similar post some months earlier. He then engaged in a lengthy court battle with Rugby Australia and missed out on playing in the world cup where the Wallabies performed poorly.

The post set off one of the most controversial debates of the year, as politicians, talk back radio hosts, breakfast show presenters, Christians, the LGBTQI community and members of the public shared their views on the topic.

The enormous controversy, however, was still not enough to win Folau the biggest prize in Australian sport.

Why not?

Because 2019 was the most most competitive year in the history of The Frownlow Medal, with players being charged with sexual assault, violence against women, stabbing, drug and alcohol abuse and gambling on their own games. A misguided social media post was simply not enough this year.

The controversy also means that one of the most talented footballers of the modern era may never play League or Union again. He will never play AFL again, but is unlikely to be missed by fans of that sport.

He’ll be forced to watch football, and The Frownlow Medal, from the sidelines. At least his Frownlow failure will give his army of Christian soldiers something else to complain about.

Image: NuNa