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NRL presents united front on jabs, but behind the scenes it’s going to get prickly

NRL presents united front on jabs, but behind the scenes it’s going to get prickly

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Some believe that sport and politics should not mix. In my opinion, the two cannot be separated.

Human beings participate in sport and human beings by nature are inherently political.

By ‘politics’ I don’t mean the shenanigans that happen in Canberra every week, but rather the role that sport can play in starting or facilitating a conversation about important social issues.

Traditionally, the NRL has not shied away from engaging in difficult conversations and using the powerful voice of the game to strike up a dialogue about issues. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things in the game.

Sport has an incredible power to bring people together, which makes it a powerful tool in making our world a better place.

Examples of the NRL performing in this space include when Macklemore performed ‘Same Love’ in the 2017 grand finale during the marriage equality debate, the discussion of why parts of the Australian national anthem are troubling to Aborigines and the NRL’s commitment to a ‘no-fault stand-down policy’, being the first Australian sport to introduce a policy of this nature.

Macklemore performs ahead of the 2017 NRL Grand Finals. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

We saw another example of leadership from the NRL last week, being the first sporting code in the country to release a video encouraging Australians to get vaccinated.

The campaign includes representatives from several of our clubs, including Adam O’Brien of the Newcastle Knights, Kennedy Cherrington of the Parramatta Eels and Nathan Cleary of the Penrith Panthers.

There is a wide range of ages and nationalities involved, all encouraging people across the country to get vaccinated. This representation is important, in particular given the vaccine hesitancy in communities with a strong representation of people of Pasifika origin.

It is important to note that the campaign is supported by important work done by Canterbury and South Sydney (which makes sense given that these clubs represent areas of Sydney where the impact of the pandemic is most felt).

The Bulldogs have helped NSW Health carry messages to a culturally diverse fan base, while Souths’ connections to Indigenous communities also make them play an important role.

Dean Widders, who will coach the NRLW team at Parramatta, also speaks directly to Indigenous communities, encouraging people to get vaccinated.

I am incredibly proud that the game is committed to carrying this message and playing its part in helping our country return to a state of normalcy. Vaccination is the only way to do this.

But while the NRL may have come together on this issue, behind the scenes the position will not be so unified.

No doubt there will be players who are hesitant and uncertain about getting vaccinated, just like the public. This will undoubtedly play out over the next couple of months as different sports have presented their position that player involvement is dependent on a full vaccination.

The NRL does not yet have a position on this, but they may be waiting for the government to make a decision or wait to see how other sports rise to the challenge.

Vaccination decisions will not only impact the players. It will also have an impact on those of us who wish to attend live events in 2022.

Earlier this week, the Sydney Roosters became the first sporting club in Australia to announce plans to ban unvaccinated fans from attending home games next season.

“We want members and fans to feel safe and secure to come to football and know that the people they are sitting next to have been fully immunized,” President Nick Politis told the The telegraph of the day.

“It could upset a minority of supporters, but it’s the only way forward.

“We believe that all clubs in the NRL need to take a responsible stance on this, as they are doing abroad.”

No doubt this will have a different impact on the clubs. Roosters represent parts of Sydney with much higher vaccination rates. Will the Bulldogs, Eels, and Rabbitohs be ready to make a similar pledge?

The challenges of the pandemic continue to accompany us and sport clearly has a role to play in bringing us together again.

But the sport has a number of hurdles to overcome in determining what a safe gathering looks like for players, officials and spectators.




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