The global rugby world has seen a conflict erupt in the Australian rugby league over the so-called “rainbow jerseys” of the Manly Sea Eagles. The rainbow stripes meant to sympathize with the LGBTQ+ movement caused seven members of the team to refuse to play in a game due to religious reasons. Other members have countered with how betting sponsorships should have caused the same amount of reaction but did not.
Gambling sponsorships in sports
The rainbow controversy took a quick turn towards the more common issue of gambling sponsors for sports teams. The issue of gambling sponsors has spread across sports, and has in particular affected soccer teams in Europe.
That being said, gambling partnerships are often among the most lucrative deals for sports teams, and help bring more fun to the fans. For example, the playzee review on cherryredcasino.com states that gamblers can find over 3000 games in a single casino. There are many arguments that point out that rugby-inspired games such as slots might actually help fans feel even more connected to the sport.
The issue of the rainbow jersey
Before the conversation took a turn towards gambling, the original issue revolved around the new game jerseys for the Sydney-based Manly Sea Eagles. The jersey maintained the maroon colour of the team but had added a few thin rainbow striped details in support of the LGBTQ+ community. However, the new jersey met a lot of criticism within the team, leading to seven of the members refusing to play in last week’s Thursday game against the Sydney Roosters.
The seven players have received harsh criticism for picking their issues due to their religious arguments. Other players and journalists alike have brought up that their team jerseys are fronting a gambling company and their arena is named after a beer company, yet there have never been complaints about that despite their being religious incentives.
Could prevent a place in the finals
The rainbow jersey might have caused more than a theoretical rift within the Manly team. The following lost game against the Sydney Roosters could be a deciding factor in whether or not the Manly team will reach the NRL finals. A fellow teammate, who spoke anonymously to the press, stated that the refusal of his teammates to play is likely the reason they lost to the Roosters. Furthermore, he said that the potential loss of a playoff spot could hurt the existing team rift even more long-term.
Homosexual former players speak out
The controversy has sparked global reactions. Amongst commentators were British Keegan Hirst, who has played for Wakefield, Dewsbury, and Batley and who came out as gay in 2015. He has since retired, but the controversy resulted in a comeback in order to battle “visibility and inclusion” for the LGBTQIA+ community in rugby.
Not least of all, former Manly player Ian Roberts – the very first openly gay man in rugby – also spoke out about the incident. He said he saw the jersey in a positive light as it can help create impactful conversations. He also said that he in fact was surprised pushback hadn’t been prevalent at an earlier stage of the campaign. In a humbling interview, Roberts stated that he respected the seven players’ actions, but would like to sit down and discuss the issue with them about the real issue of the pride round: welcoming all people.
NZR several efforts for inclusion
Whereas the Australian sports effort for inclusivity has sparked controversy, New Zealand Rugby has engaged in several campaigns to include and welcome the rainbow community in their work. In 2018, the All Blacks and the Black Ferns both presented their traditional black jerseys with a rainbow chest detail.
More recently, the NZR released the campaign “He toa takitini: It’s a team effort” for inclusivity. An NZR research team had found that 78% of Kiwis had witnessed experienced homophobia in sports. As a result, the NZR has taken the Pride Pledge, a statement that welcomes all members of the rainbow community.
Yet another effort in the NZ rugby community is that the country has two teams that are part of the International Gay Rugby affiliation. The Auckland-based NZ Falcons is one of these, which has successfully established themselves as a rainbow-friendly team since 2013. Earlier this year, the team was awarded the Mitre10 New Zealand Community of the Year award.