News & Current Affairs

By Erin Taylor


To rainbow or not to rainbow – is it ok to say no?

You would have to have been living under a rock this week if you haven’t heard about the controversy with 7 players from the Manly Sea Eagles club in the National Rugby League (NRL). If you have been living under a rock then in short, 7 players from the senior team are boycotting* this weekend’s round because the club wanted them to wear jerseys in which the white piping usually on their shirts was changed to rainbow piping in support of the Pride movement. The pride movement aims to promote dignity and equality for our fellow humans that identify as LGBTQI.

Many issues have been raised with the timing (in women’s’ round – although I can understand perhaps using the round that supports another historically marginalised group makes sense), without consultation with the players or the NRL. They are all just a distraction from the real issue though, aren’t they? Leaving aside the execution of the jerseys by the club, isn’t the real question, in 2022, is it still ok to be so open about excluding our fellow humans and making them feel less than human?

Maybe Manly’s aim was to show that the NRL and the NRL community’s support of Pride or inclusion generally is really only lip service. Perhaps this whole thing was engineered to see if all those who profess an intent for inclusion (whether that be for women, people with disabilities, ethnic communities or members of our LGBTQI community) is genuine. If that were the aim, then Manly have absolutely nailed it. I can’t help but think it may have been. Manly’s coach Des Hasler, played with Ian Roberts, the only openly gay rugby league player. Indeed, Ian apparently came out when he was playing at Manly because he felt he was supported by his colleagues and the wider Manly community. I think if you asked Ian if he really thought the broader NRL community supported Pride, he would say no, notwithstanding the NRL participating in events like the Mardi Gras.

So now what? Is it ok for the players to sit out? As their employers, the starting position is that if their contract with the player requires them specifically to participate in a Pride round, or wear pink jerseys for women’s round etc, then they’re in breach if they don’t. If the contracts aren’t that specific, then the question falls to the implied term in every employee’s contract that they must obey the employer’s lawful and reasonable directions[1].

Whether it’s lawful is determined by assessing both whether there’s any illegality and secondly whether it’s within the scope of the contract of employment. In this instance, requiring them to wear the jersey is clearly not illegal. I think it’s also probably within the scope of their employment contract. They are required to wear jerseys from week to week, they are also required to satisfy the requirements of club sponsors, the NRL and the club. Sport has long been used as a vehicle to promote not only commercial interests but also broader social issues because of its capacity to reach such a large cross section of our community.

Whether it’s reasonable then turns to considerations which might include the employee’s religious beliefs. In the melting pot of cultures and religions that exist in Australia, that will always be a hard one. Many employees across the country probably daily encounter requirements of their employment that don’t necessarily align with their religious beliefs. In order for a direction to be reasonable, there needs to be a good reason for the employer to make the direction[2].

I understand some of the players are Mormons. Let’s use that as an example. According to their website, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does not ban people from the Church who have a same-sex attraction. They do not view the attraction as a sin, rather they view acting on it as a sin and encourage chastity amongst their members that have a same-sex attraction. Their position is that, in the words of their scripture God “loveth his children”[3] The website says that any disciple who has a same-sex attraction requires kindness, compassion and understanding. If they act on their attraction then they have sinned, but in the Church there are mechanisms for repentance, as there are in many religions. So presumably, if a gay Mormon has acted on his or her attraction, he or she can repent, but isn’t abolished from existence. How is that consistent with the position “we will not play in a jersey that aims to show we have kindness, compassion and understanding for all of God’s people”.

In that context, and in the context of the significant role that sport plays in our society, in promoting messages of health, fitness and (I thought) inclusion, why isn’t it a reasonable direction for Manly to make those players play? And why shouldn’t they? Wearing the jersey doesn’t make them gay (or transgender or non-binary), it doesn’t mean (according to the Church of Jesus Christ website) that they are sinning. In fact, they are offering the kindness, compassion and understanding that the gospel requires.

Which, if I am not mistaken, is kind of the whole point of what the rainbow symbol now represents. What an awful shame for our LGBTQI community that this has happened this week, when it came from a place of the complete opposite.

For mine, I am proudly an ally and I use this chance to say to all my friends and friends to be in the LGBTQI community, I support you, I always will. And you should take heart from the fact that the rainbow jerseys in question have all sold out to all your other admiring allies.

* although reportedly, some have already had a change of heart

[1] Bayley v Osborne [1984] FCA 460

[2] Jovan Jovcic and Filip Markovic v Coopers Brewery Limited [2022] FWC 1931

[3] (1 Nephi 11:17) from