Australian basketball’s first pride round lauded despite some NBL players’ reluctance to wear LGBTQ+ jersey

<span>Photograph: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

The NBL’s first pride round still sends a strong message of inclusivity despite the reluctance of several players to wear a logo supporting the LGBTQ+ community, according to Australian national nonprofit inclusion program Pride in Sport.

Several Cairns Taipans players are reportedly hesitant to wear a jersey bearing a rainbow logo during Wednesday night’s match against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, the first game of the pride round, citing their religious and cultural beliefs.

Taipans coach Adam Forde called the pride round a “great initiative” and defended players’ freedom of choice, saying everyone was free to do what they were comfortable with and not be “segregated or excluded because of it”, Herald Sun reported. Guardian Australia has reached out to Taipans for comment.

Related: ‘Now I feel comfortable’: basketball star Isaac Humphries lauded after coming out as gay

An NBL spokesperson said the league had not received formal confirmation that players would not wear the jersey, although that has been widely reported and is expected. Players are still permitted to play wearing their regular jersey, the NBL said.

“Our position is not to force or mandate anyone to wear the jersey and we are not here to impose our views on to anyone else. Our job is to love and support people without judgment,” the NBL spokesman said.

Lucas Lixinski, a human rights law professor and an associate at the Australian Human Rights Institute, said any refusal to wear the rainbow logo was disappointing.

“It undermines somewhat what the round is trying to accomplish to the extent that it shows that within sport, things are not as welcoming or inclusive of LGBTIQ+ persons and identities as the sport is trying to showcase itself as being,” Lixinski said.

“But I don’t think anyone assumed that this was going to be an easy road and that everyone was going to be super ready to go. Male sports have a history of very few people being out, and that’s for a reason.”

In November, Melbourne United player Isaac Humphries came out as gay in an emotional speech to his teammates, making history by becoming the first Australian male basketball player, and first player in the NBL, to be openly gay.

Humphries said the pride round was “another step towards the league and basketball becoming a more comfortable and welcoming environment”.

Beau Newell, who manages Pride in Sport, which provided awareness training to players ahead of the NBL’s first pride round, was not surprised some players were opposed to the logo.

“It would be naive to expect that we have every single player just accepting it and wanting to run with it straight away, because as we have learned with other sports, players come from all different backgrounds just as everyone does,” Newell said.

Newell said the reluctance of some players to wear the jersey did not undermine the pride round.

“We need to take a step back and acknowledge that this is the first time a pride round is happening in the NBL and to just have a very small handful of players say they are not comfortable wearing the jersey, doesn’t mean it’s not a success.”

Last year, Manly coach Des Hasler apologised on behalf of the club for the “poor” execution in unveiling a pride jersey, which resulted in seven players boycotting a game.

Hasler said none of the coaching staff or players were made aware of the jersey before it was launched.