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Sydney (AFP) – Australian rugby league side Manly Sea Eagles sported a rainbow-trimmed Pride jersey to loud applause Thursday as the club's owner said the players who refused to wear it were now open to the idea.
The Sydney-based team wore the one-off uniform for a crucial home game against the Sydney Roosters, a move designed to promote inclusivity and diversity. Manly lost 20-10.
It was the first time a club in the National Rugby League has had a Pride jersey, which shows support for the LGBTQI community.
But the players were not consulted before its unveiling this week and seven of them -- who have Pacific heritage -- voiced opposition because of their "cultural and religious" beliefs, and boycotted the game.
With tensions simmering, the club instructed them not to attend Thursday night's clash after consulting with police, saying it was for their own safety.
Inside the stadium some fans wore rainbow colours, with one seen carrying a banner declaring: "Love is Love".
Ahead of the match, Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn told broadcaster Channel Nine that he had met with the boycotting players and they were committed to finding a solution, with their concerns more about lack of consultation than the jersey itself.
"I think they were somewhat frustrated that it went as far as it did without consultation, and we respect that," he said, adding: "We are all about inclusiveness so we will continue this (Pride) theme."
Asked if the seven players were open to wearing a rainbow jersey next time, Penn replied: "Yes, that's the message that they were very clear on -- let's work together."
Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau'atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley were the seven players who skipped the match, Australian media said.
At an impassioned press conference on Tuesday, Manly coach Des Hasler apologised for how the issue was handled, saying it was a "significant mistake" for the club not to consult the players before the top was released.
Former Manly stalwart Ian Roberts, the first openly gay player in rugby league, had expressed his disappointment at the controversy and said he would like to talk to the players.
Penn said they would be happy to do so.
"The players we met with are keen to talk to him and get their message across and they want to hear from him," he said.
Similar initiatives have been part of some Australian rules football teams for several years, such as the Sydney Swans and St Kilda, who played a Pride Game in June.
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