AFLW’s Haneen Zreika opts to miss match rather than don rainbow attire

AFLW Giants player Haneen Zreika will sit out this week’s clash with the Western Bulldogs after she decided that wearing the team’s special Pride round jumper would be against the beliefs of her faith.

Zreika is the game’s first Muslim player, the 22 year old made her debut in 2019. She took part in the game’s Pride round in 2020, running through a banner that read “Pride Round: an inclusive game for all, everyone is welcome.” On that occasion the team did not have a rainbow adorned jumper for the round.

Her decision is said to have the support and respect of her team mates, and Zreika will reportedly still be attending the game and watching from the sidelines. While the AFLW’s Pride round was last week, the Giants chose to wear the themed jumper at their Friday night game, which will be their first home game of the season.

The club reportedly undertook a extensive community consultation before making their decision and Zreika spoke openly to her team mates about the tension between her support for the Pride round, her LGBTIQA+ team mates and her faith.

The announcement of the team’s players for the upcoming matchlists Zreika as not playing for personal reasons.

Zreika’s decision kicks off debate on religious discrimination and sporting clubs

While the player and the club have not made any statements on the issue, but it has become a hot button topic for commentators and activists.

Columnist Piers Ackerman said sporting bodies had no right to compel players to make player support any political issue.

“These sporting bodies really have no right whatsoever to tell players what position they should take on political issues.” Akerman said during an appearance on the Rita Panahi Show on Sky News. “She happens to be a Muslim, but she could a devout Hindu, could be a devout Buddhist, a lot of people have real problems with homosexuality within their framework of their religion.”

Akerman said the case was similar to that of Rugby player Israel Folau.

“He was treated abominably by his sporting code, and had to go overseas. I think its time that people playing sport, played sport.” Akerman said, arguing that both sporting teams and  businesses should not participate in political discussions. “I don’t want to hear them saving the planet or saving a minority group.”

Appearing on another Sky News program David Penburthy, columnist for The Australian, said the example of Israel Folau was different because Folau had actually made statements about his beliefs. “I don’t know if this female player is saying that people are going to burn in eternal hell or anything like that for their choices. It’s just a question of discomfort, she doesn;t sound like a hateful person. She sounds like someone who for her own private reasons isn’t comfortable with it.”

Sky News presenter Chris Kenny said Haneen Zreika should be allowed to play and people needed to be more broadly tolerant.

“We respect her religious views as long as she’s not forcing them anybody else.” Kenny said, noting that the Australian Cricket Team had made adjustments to their operations to include Muslim player Usman Khawaja.

Opening his program, Paul Murray said it was reasonable to assume that Zreika didn’t want to wear clothing that promoted the lifestyle of the LGBT+ community, and was giving the queer community “the middle finger” and it would be interested to see how people online reacted.

“I will be fascinating to see how the internet reacts to the discomfort of a player for their religious beliefs. When it was Usman Khawaja and alcohol it was fine, but when it’s the AFLW player, and it’s the promotion of the Pride round, will the reaction be any different?” Murray asked.

“Remember the outrage about Israel Folau, remember the front pages, remember the headlines suggesting that he’d let down kids – who had at one point wanted to cheer him on. Presumably the same arguments will be there about the AFLW, or magically, for some bizarre reason, will this not be a thing at all?”

Senator Amanda Stoker says situation supports government’s push for Religious Discrimination laws

Later on Paul Murray’s program Amanda Stoker, the Assistant Minister to Attorney General, said the situation illustrated why the Morrison’s government’s Religious Discrimination Bill was required.

“If we had the Religious Discrimination Bill in place in this country we would have legal protection to ensure this women didn’t face prejudice in her ability to continue to be a part of the team. just because of a deeply held religious position.”

Senator Stoker also said the situation showed why sporting bodies should not comment on political issues.

“It really does highlight the dangers that come when sport, which is supposed to be about bringing people together, starts to dabble in matters of politics. When it comes to matters of politics there’s always going to be genuinely held divisions, it’s the same when those political issues start to touch upon people’s deeply held religious beliefs.

“Sport should stay away from this, I think that is a really important lesson that we should take away from the Rugby Australia experience, and now this example.” Senator Stoker said.

Update: 28-01-22 Haneen Zreika has released a statement regarding her decision to not play. 

Graeme Watson

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