‘Minefield’ that blindsided Manly in jersey saga

Rugby league icon Phil Gould says “education and communication” is key to any future Pride Round taking place in the NRL.

The issue has exploded this week after seven Manly players refused to wear a rainbow jersey for Thursday’s match against the Roosters.

In a lengthy apology, coach Des Hasler conceded the Sea Eagles had made a “significant mistake.”

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“Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor,” Hasler said.

His captain, Daly Cherry-Evans, said he would support the introduction of a Pride Round in future.

Speaking on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast, Gould said all stakeholders need to be involved from the very beginning.

“Through education and communication, there’s no other way around it,” Gould explained.

“If we’re looking for equality and inclusiveness of all these things we’re talking about, some of it is going to be at cross purposes, and that’s the difficulty of it. It’s even the difficulty talking about it.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s a lesson for our game about the conversations we need to be having, because if you get it at the last minute, this is what happens.”

At his media conference on Tuesday Hasler confirmed that the Manly players weren’t consulted over the proposed change to the jersey, conceding “there was little consultation or collaboration with key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club.”

But Gould acknowledged that even if the players had been involved earlier it may not have resolved the issue.

“I don’t know how you could have avoided this situation, I don’t know if it would have been different if they had collaborated with the players. That’s all guesswork,” he said.

“This is what’s happened, we can see why it’s happened, we can see how many people it’s hurt and what that’s allowed with public comment.

“We just need to get through this and work on the communication and togetherness going forward.”

“This is just an unfortunate situation where non-communication has led to an unexpected result and now it becomes a public debate,” he added.

“Once you start to publicly debate religion and expectations and inclusivity and exclusivity, it’s a minefield.”

Gould pointed out that even the most minor change to a jersey has to be approved by the NRL, a process that takes months, not days. He said the fact nobody thought to involve the players during this time was a “failure in cultural awareness.”

“I feel really sorry for the Manly club. I feel sorry for the game. And I feel sorry for the players who have been put in this position. For them, it’s respect for their religion, their heritage, their elders, their extended families ,” he said.

“This spirituality is so important to them that there’s no compromise for them. That’s just how it is.

“But to do that you’re going to upset someone.”

Gould noted the diverse backgrounds of the current group of NRL players, explaining the significant change in recent decades.

“Our game is a diverse, multicultural game,” he said.

“It’s totally different to what it was 40 years ago, and I’ve been on that journey for the 40 years. I’ve witnessed it every day. I can remember going to my football club at the time because I saw it coming through in the schoolboy football.

“I said, ‘We need to talk about religion because this is something we’re going to have to accommodate in the game.’

“Some people are and some people aren’t, that’s just a fact of life, but we need to be respectful of all races and religions, independent of what that means.”

Hasler said on Tuesday that the club had intended to show care and compassion to groups who face inclusion issues on a daily basis, but conceded the outcome may in fact have been the opposite of what was intended.

“I would say this was done with all good intention, but without the cultural awareness of what the ramifications might have been,” Gould said.

“Manly are going to be a weakened football team this Thursday, and the game is going to learn a hell of a lesson.”

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