Seven rugby players withdraw from match in protest over LGBT rainbow shirt
Seven Australian rugby league players have withdrawn from a match after refusing to wear a shirt carrying LGBT rainbow symbols.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, based in northern Sydney, said the players - who all featured in the club's previous match - were opposed to wearing the jersey on religious and cultural grounds.
It has rainbow stripes and a rainbow collar, replacing the usual white decoration in those areas.
Coach Des Hasler defended the players, saying the club was at fault for not properly consulting them.
The seven unavailable for selection against Sydney Roosters are Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau'atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley.
Under National Rugby League (NRL) rules, they cannot wear the standard jersey because match regulations require all players in a team to be in an identical strip.
"We accept their decision," Mr Hasler told reporters.
"These young men are strong in their beliefs and their convictions and we will give them the space and the support they require."
The Sydney Daily Telegraph said the players had been unaware of the shirt until it was shown to the media.
"The intent of the jersey was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ movements," Mr Hasler said.
"Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor. There was little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club."
The withdrawals will leave the Eagles severely depleted - NRL squads contain 13 starting players and four on the interchange bench for each game.
Former Manly player Ian Roberts - the first professional rugby league player to come out as gay - said the players' stance was "sad and uncomfortable".
He told Sydney's Daily Telegraph: "I can promise you every young kid on the northern beaches (of Sydney) who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this."
NRL boss Peter V'landys said that while the league respected the players' position, it hoped they would change their minds.
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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it is a "good thing that sport is more inclusive", adding: "It's important that in Australian society, we respect everyone for who they are."
Mr Hasler apologised for the confusion, saying: "Our intent was to be caring towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily."
He added: "Sadly this poor management has caused significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people, in particular those groups whose human rights we are in fact attempting to support.
"We wish to apologise to the LGBTQ community who embrace the rainbow colours, who use these colours for pride and advocacy and human rights issues."
The pride jerseys were a hit with fans, with local media reporting the club had sold out of its initial stock of all men's and women's sizes.