‘They cannot be compelled to play’: Lee Hagipantelis on Manly pride jersey saga

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Seven Manly players will boycott Thursday’s NRL match after the club’s decision to wear a pride jersey, citing religious and cultural reasons.

The club publicly announced the ‘Everyone in League Jersey’ on Monday, saying in a press release: “Manly Warringah Sea Eagles will proudly wear a rainbow-detailed jersey to celebrate inclusiveness during our Round 20 game against the Roosters at 4 Pines Park.”

The seven players who will boycott, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, include Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley.

News of their withdrawal and objection to wearing the jersey has been the subject of backlash, with the players being accused of homophobia and hypocrisy.

Weighing in on the matter is the Principal of Brydens Lawyers and Chairman of the West Tigers, Lee Hagipantelis.

In an interview on SEN Breakfast with Vossy & Brandy on Tuesday, Hagipantelis acknowledged the sensitivity of the matter before going on to say: “A number of comments were made overnight which caused me some concern, of course, allegations of the boys being homophobic and the like. People need to be very careful with that.”

“But there was also criticism of the boys being prepared to wear a jumper bearing the name of a gambling company but not wearing the pride jumper. None of us are qualified and nor is it appropriate to be casting any aspersions judging someone’s cultural or religious beliefs,” he added.

Lee Hagipantelis is the Principal of Brydens Lawyers, NSW’s largest litigation firm. Photo: Brydens Lawyers

Speaking on the legal repercussions, Hagipantelis said the Manly players cannot be compelled to play nor would their employment be at risk if they object on religious or cultural grounds that are legitimately and honestly held.

“The playing contract signed by the NRL players with the club provides lawful authority for the club to direct not only where the boys play but also what they wear. As long as the lawful direction is reasonable,” Hagipantelis said.

“You can’t expect them to play in a clown’s outfit for example but you do expect them to play in a certain strip. Would it be reasonable to expect them to play in a pride jumper? Absolutely, I think we would all agree with that.

“On the other hand, the boys have objected on cultural or religious grounds. Now there are numerous pieces of anti-discrimination legislation which provide that you can not discriminate against someone on the basis of their cultural or religious beliefs.

“If these boys are stood down or they refuse to play themselves, they cannot be compromised or prejudiced so far as their employment is concerned otherwise that would be clearly unlawful.”

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