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'Coward's way out': NRL under fire over 'pathetic' anthem saga

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·5-min read
Peter FitzSimons and Scott Morrison, pictured here in 2020.
Peter FitzSimons was among those to criticise Scott Morrison's role in the national anthem backflip. Image: Getty

A number of leading commentators have taken aim at the NRL for backflipping on their decision to scrap the national anthem from State of Origin, with Scott Morrison also under fire for his role in the reinstatement.

Barely two hours after the decision was announced to axe the anthem from the pre-match ceremony at Origin, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys bowed to public backlash and reinstated it.

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NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said there had been discussions across various forums in the short time after the decision was made public, while pressure also came from Prime Minister Morrison.

“There's been numerous discussion forums across the media and across Australia today. There've been numerous phone calls today between different stakeholders,” Abdo said on Thursday afternoon.

“The Prime Minister made a phone call to our chairman.

“We've had a number of fans express their views across a number of different platforms and on that basis the commission met and decided that this decision wasn’t the intention and therefore it was important to reinstate the national anthem to start of State of Origin.”

Public opinion divided over State of Origin call

Fans and commentators were initially outraged at the decision to axe the anthem, but the call to reinstate it also caused widespread condemnation.

According to Sky News host Chris Smith, the NRL “took the coward’s way out”, describing the initial call to scrap the anthem as “one of the most pathetic decisions ever made by a sporting organisation”.

“A group of Indigenous Origin players refused to sing the anthem last year as a protest against the white invasion of Australia,” Smith said.

“So to avoid embarrassment, Abdo took the coward’s way out and banned the anthem altogether.

NSW and Queensland players, pictured here during the national anthem at State of Origin.
Both teams stand during the national anthem before game one of the 2019 State of Origin series. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

“The Australian anthem will now be played as it always should be. As for the stance taken by some indigenous players, the NRL holds an indigenous round each year, has a great history of giving skilled indigenous players opportunities they wouldn‘t normally receive, and the code’s charity work in Aboriginal communities is second to none.

“Those players should be using their status to unite black and white and commemorate the code’s indigenous history, not divide young fans of the game and guilt the NRL into no longer celebrating this great country.”

However sports journalist Brad Walter said the backflip was “not representative of the public’s view”.

“Advance Australia Fair is divisive and offensive,” Walter tweeted.

“I feel uncomfortable whenever it is played because of the hurt it causes Indigenous Australians. I’ve felt strongly about this for a long time and will continue to try to educate others.”

NRL journalist Paul Kent slammed the NRL’s political motives.

“Why the NRL continues to try to position itself in political matters is something the game has not explained,” Kent wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

“Sporting codes should represent everybody and not decide who is wrong or right, or force those who love their game to have to get behind a political position they don’t support.

“Nobody tells NRL fans whether they should vote Liberal or Labor, and the rest of politics should be the same.”

While Peter FitzSimons and The Project host Peter van Onselen criticised the Prime Minister’s role in the decision-making.

“Yes, Prime Minister. After a very tough year of plague and pestilence, of lockdown and a languishing economy, having the league players sing the national anthem will make it all better,” former Wallabies player FitzSimons said.

Van Onselen tweeted: “Personally I think the national anthem should be played at the State of Origin.

“But a PM calling to demand it gets played feels like throwing ones weight around.”

It is understood the Prime Minister pleaded the case for strong national unity after a year of hardship in his phone call with V'landys on Thursday.

NRL backflips on national anthem decision

The about-face follows an ARLC commission meeting on Wednesday night with representatives from NSWRL and the QRL, where the decision was made to scrap the anthem for Origin matches.

Abdo explained the scrapping of the anthem from Origin matches was made to celebrate the rivalry between the state teams.

The commission decided the anthem was appropriate only to be played at the NRL grand final, Anzac Day games and Test matches, and did not intend to create a divisive political debate.

However, backlash from fans and government forced the decision to be reversed on Thursday.

Last year’s series was dominated by the issue when Indigenous Blues trio Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker and Josh Addo-Carr spoke out before the game about their refusal to sing.

The anthem was also scrapped at the annual All Stars match earlier this year.

with AAP

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