AUSTRALIAN rugby league side Manly Sea Eagles have attracted controversy after half their team decided to boycott a match to avoid wearing a shirt promoting LGBT rights.
The special jersey, which has pride colours splashed across it, was due to be worn against Sydney Roosters on Thursday.
On Monday the club announced they would wear the special shirt in order to show "inclusiveness".
But Des Hasler, coach of the team, revealed that seven of the players had refused to wear it due to their "cultural and religious beliefs".
He said: "The players will not play on Thursday, and we accept their decision.
"These young men are strong in their beliefs and their convictions, and we will give them the space and the support they require."
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Hasler then later apologised for the fallout surrounding the boycott.
He said: "Our intent was to be caring towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily.
"Sadly this poor management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, in particular those groups whose human rights we in fact attempting to support.
"We wish to apologize to the LGBTQ community who embrace the rainbow colors, who use these colors for pride and advocacy and human rights issues."
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Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakauatu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley are all unavailable for Thursday's match.
Each rugby league's squad includes 13 starting players and four on the bench.
In response, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Vlandys said he understood the decision but also called for inclusiveness within the sport.
Vlandys said: "One thing I take pride in with rugby league is we treat everyone the same. It doesn't matter your color, sexual orientation or race. We're all equal.
"We'll never take a backward step in having our sport inclusive. But at the same time we will not disrespect our players freedoms.
"The NRL does not have a designated Pride round, but Vlandys said it could be a consideration for future seasons."
Meanwhile, Ian Roberts, a former Sea Eagles star and the first rugby league player to come out as gay, insists he is not surprised by the decision.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald: "It hasn't totally shocked me like it's shocking everyone else. As an older gay man I'm used to this. I expected there would be some sort of religious pushback."
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The Sydney Daily Telegraph have reported that the players were not made aware they would be wearing the jersey until after it was shown to the media.
And the league's regulations mean those boycotting cannot wear a different shirt as all players must wear identical kits.
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