Former English rugby league star Keegan Hirst has hit out at the Manly players boycotting their next game because of a refusal to wear the club’s pride jersey.

Seven players — Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley — are opposed to wearing the jersey, which features rainbow-coloured piping, for religious and cultural reasons.

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The saga has dominated headlines since news broke on Monday and on Wednesday night it was revealed those players won’t even be at the ground to watch Manly’s clash against the Roosters tonight, based on security advice.

Hirst, who played in the UK Super League and came out as gay during his professional career in 2015, has blasted those Sea Eagles stars who are refusing to wear the rainbow jersey.

“I’d be interested to hear what which religious and cultural beliefs stop you wearing a shirt with a rainbow on but not one that promotes gambling etc?” Hirst tweeted, in reference to accusations of hypocrisy about the players having no issue with Manly being sponsored by a betting company.

“Hey @SeaEagles, I’d be honoured to wear your Pride shirt. As should all your players. Shame on the ones who aren’t.

“The ironic thing about the @SeaEagles Pride/player boycott saga is that I know what goes on in RL changing rooms. And a lot of it would be seen as being MUCH ‘gayer’ than a rainbow on a jersey.”

Responding to a Twitter user who said there is “no need for gay pride” because “all people are equal”, Hirst wrote: “Dave, I wish that were the case. Unfortunately people are not treated equally. Gay people are frequently ostracised, ridiculed, beaten and even killed simply for being gay. That doesn’t happen because you’re straight. Not once. That is just the sad truth.”

In follow-up tweets responding to other social media comments, Hirst added: “Sure, differences are inevitable. We should embrace all people with their differences. Gay people around the world are still executed, arrested and persecuted for being gay. The shirt is essentially representing that everyone is welcome. Boycotting the shirt goes the other way.

“Representation matters. What does it mean to gay kids who want to play rugby? They’ve just been shown that they wouldn’t be accepted by their peers. Which the sport isn’t as inclusive as it likes to think it is. Symbolism matters. If it didn’t, those players wouldn’t care.

“Being gay isn’t a belief. A belief is a choice. Religion and the aspects of it that practice is a choice. If religious beliefs meant someone wouldn’t play with black players, would we say ‘it’s their religion, it’s OK’. No, we wouldn’t. Discrimination is discrimination.”

Hirst’s comments come as Australian TV icon Magda Szubanski also hit out at the players for boycotting the pride jersey.

The popular performer declared the seven Sea Eagles stars were failing to show the tolerance demanded by their religion by refusing to wear a LGBTQIA-themed jersey.

“Thought experiment: imagine if Manly players were asked to wear stripes to let religious players & fans know they are welcome,” Szubanski began.

“Then imagine an atheist player refuses to wear the stripes coz their “belief” (based on fact) is that millions have been killed in the name of religion.

“Religious tolerance doesn’t mean you condone or believe in the other’s religion. It means that you accept the right of difference to exist. That you support a world where people are not excluded or persecuted because of their religion. All we ask, is for the same courtesy.

“In a nutshell – the reason we don’t all kill one another is tolerance. The Manly players are being asked to decide if they believe in supporting a tolerant society – one that allows difference.

“Note that there are PLENTY of players who feel safe to be open about their religion, but no current players who feel safe to be open about their sexuality. That tells us where the injustice lies.”

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