The AFLW’s first-ever Muslim player, Haneen Zreika, has pulled out of the league’s pride round due to religious beliefs – the second time she has done so.
The 23-year-old GWS Giants player will not be playing in the club’s fixture against Hawthorn on October 16 in Sydney, where the side will be wearing specially-designed pride jumpers.
The round celebrates and honours the LGBTQI+ community, which is heavily interlaced with the league given the amount of gay players.
Zreika sparked backlash in January when she made the same decision pull out of the Giants fixture – and that outrage appears to have reared its ugly head again.
Haneen Zreika, pictured with her long-term boyfriend, is pulling out of the club’s game in the AFLW pride round due to her Muslim beliefs
It comes after Essendon CEO Andrew Thorburn was forced to step down from his role after just one day due to his links to a controversial church that condemns homosexuality and compared abortion to the Holocaust.
Islam, the second largest religion in the world, is clear in its teachings that homosexuality is a sin, and Zreika said she felt she had a ‘responsibility to represent her faith’ during pride round.
For her, this means not wearing the rainbow jersey GWS designed for the round – and she revealed she felt like an ‘outsider’ when the AFL rejected her proposal to just wear the normal strip.
Haneen Zreika, who plays for the Giants, is refusing to wear the club’s specially-designed rainbow jersey that promotes the LGBTQI+ community
‘I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, until the AFL rejected me from wearing a normal jersey. That was a shock to me,’ the speedy midfielder said in the Disney+ AFLW documentary ‘Fearless’, which was released at the start of the season.
‘I love what the AFL do and the way they include everyone, but you can’t have a round where you include people but exclude someone that it impacts their faith.
‘I really feel like an outsider, like, ‘no mate, you’re not part of us’,’ Zreika said.
Zreika has a number of gay teammates, including captain Alicia Eva, Katherine Smith and Pepa Randall; and insists she does not ‘judge the girls’ despite differing beliefs.
GWS Giants AFLW players model the side’s pride jersey last season. Rebecca Privitelli (right) and Katherine Smith (centre) are both gay
‘They can be whatever they want,’ she said in the documentary series.
‘I still love and respect them and they’re still my mates. But for me to wear a jersey, and represent our faith … there’s just … (I can’t do it).’
Zreika and the club have indicated they won’t be commenting on the situation, and instead focusing on their upcoming match against Collingwood on Sunday, and their pride round clash on October 16.
But that hasn’t stopped a storm of controversy on social media – particularly in the wake of the Thorburn debacle and seven Christian Manly players refusing to wear the club’s rainbow jersey during the NRL season.
Haneen Zreika and her boyfriend, who’s identity is not known, celebrating Eid Mubarak earlier this year
‘If the Essendon CEO was asked to resign or stand down because of his religious beliefs, then why wasn’t Haneen Zreika made to resign or stand down for voicing her religious beliefs against homosexuality?’ one fan asked on Twitter.
Top footy and racing pundit Ralph Horowitz slammed those who criticised Thorburn but remain silent about Zreika’s decision as ‘weak hypocrites’.
Others criticised the AFL, GWS and Victorian premier Dan Andrews, who strongly voiced his displeasure at Thorburn’s appointment, for not not being stronger on the matter – like they were with condemning Essendon.
Haneen Zreika (left), pictured playing against the Swans in round three, will not be playing in the club’s pride game against Hawthorn
Some were not so kind, however, saying her decision not to wear a rainbow-coloured jersey was simply ‘homophobic’.
‘There is nothing in Islam that prevents her wearing a rainbow. She is making a personal decision to actively disassociate herself from the support of the LGBTQI community, her religion has not forced her to do this,’ a man, who claims to be a former Federal Agent who worked in Counter Terrorism, wrote on Twitter.
‘Deliberate, disgraceful, hateful bigotry,’ one fan chimed in; with another commenting: ‘She (Zreika) needs to be sacked immediately. She’s spreading hate, while the ex-Bombers CEO (Thorburn) was guilty by association’.
One crucial difference between Zreika’s stance and those of the infamous ‘Manly Seven’, Thorburn and outspoken former NRL star Israel Folau, is that the star Giant has made her decision quietly and respectfully.
Folau and members of the Manly Seven have publicly spread hate and condemned the LGBTQI+ community to hell on their social media, while Thorburn’s church – which he the chair of – is vocal in its displeasure of homosexuality.
‘Practicing homosexuality is a sin,’ one sermon reads on the City on the Hill church’s website.
Zreika (centre), a practicing Muslim, is pictured with her mother (left) and another Muslim Aussie Rules player, Lael Kassam
Thorburn, who had only been in the role one day, was forced by Essendon to choose between his role at the club and his position at the church – and he chose the latter.
The club’s ultimatum was supported by McLachlan.
‘The organisation (City on the Hill church) that he led and their position on some issues was seemingly at odds with the position of the Essendon Football Club … I understand it,’ he told reporters on Wednesday.
Given the two overtly different approaches taken by the league to what are both very delicate matters, no doubt the controversy around Zreika’s decision will continue to rage ahead of the match on October 16.