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Muslim Aussie athlete refuses to don gay pride kit

25th Feb 2022

(Credit: NAPARAZZI/Flickr Commons)

Harun Nasrullah

The decision of a Muslim Australian Rules football player not to wear a gay pride jersey provoked backlash in Australia.

Australian-Lebanese Haneen Zreika forfeited the right to play for the Greater Western Sydney Giants in the Pride round of the AFLW competition on January 28 citing religious objections and was officially listed by the club as being unavailable for the match for “personal reasons”.

Zreika, the first Muslim woman to play in the semi-pro league, had played in the annual Pride round last year, which celebrates the diversity of the game’s supporter base, but the team were not wearing themed jerseys during the 2021 season. She even appeared in a promotional photo shoot for the round in previous seasons but will not feature in the 2022 edition.

Zreika released a statement on February 29: “Inclusion is about creating a space where people are able to respect their right to choose how they live their life as long as they don’t advocate hate and division.”
She explained the decision had been “difficult” and that she had been supported by the league, the Giants and her team-mates.

“As the first Australian Muslim woman in the AFLW [Australian Football League Women’s], I have a responsibility to represent my faith and my community. I respect people regardless of their sexual orientation,” she added.

Several commentators have drawn comparisons with the Israel Folau affair, where the superstar was sacked from rugby union for making disparaging public remarks about same-sex relationships.
Sky News host Paul Murray called Zreika’s stance “very obviously a middle finger” to the LGBTQIA community.

“I wonder if they would let a Christian do this?” asked author Warren Mundine.
Zreika received a mixed response on social media over her stance – arguably slightly opposed to her stand.

“So wait… you are allowed to show discriminatory behaviour based on religious beliefs towards someone’s sexuality? How does she even look at the players in the eyes after this?”

While it has been estimated that between 75 and 80 per cent of the AFLW competition identify as being LGBTQI, it is understood Zreika’s teammates support her decision.

“Eject her from the team,” one woman wrote on Facebook. I respect all people of religion, and expect the same respect in return. Hiding behind religion because of discrimination is cowardly and abhorrent.”
“Good on her,” wrote one woman. “But I bet she won’t be demonised like Israel was!”

Israel Folau lost sponsorships and his rugby contract during a series of controversies over his views on homosexuality in 2019. Folau’s fortunes took a nosedive after he made a series of controversial statements about homosexuality and same sex marriage including an infamous Instagram post where he said gay people were destined for hell.

He also delivered a church sermon in which he called homosexuality “a sin” and was found to have breached Rugby Australia’s code of conduct, lost sponsorship contracts and saw his Rugby Australia contract torn up in 2019, ending his career with the Wallabies.

In late 2019, he took legal action and a confidential settlement was reached with Rugby Australia. “Proud of her for standing up for her beliefs,” said one man.“We support your freedom of choice and freedom to express your opinion….and anyone who cannot do the same, I say- back off,” wrote a Muslim woman on Facebook.

The most notable difference between Zreika and Folau is that she has quietly opted out of the game and not made public statements about her sexual preference.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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