Sport has always been treated as the one true religion in Australia, so how should punters react when a player decides to forgo Sunday footy for his faith?
I used to work in a servo. The hours were great and I could fit it in around all the other hundreds of project I doing at the time. It was especially good because I worked with a fellow who refused to work on Sundays on the grounds that it was the Sabbath and he was exercising his right to practice his religion. Neither of us felt like we missed out, although perhaps we might have.
In the NRL, Will Hopoate has had it written into his contract with the Canterbury Bulldogs that he will not attend training sessions or football games that conflict with his scheduled Sunday mass as part of his devotion to his Mormon faith. The grand final falls on a Sunday this year, so this could potentially be detrimental to the Bulldogs’ chances should they make it to that particularly religious Sunday.
The Bulldogs have a reputation in the league for having quite passionate fans. Passionate about their team, vocal in their support of one another and very devout in their faith. If any team’s supporters would understand, it would be them, but rough voices of complaint have been heard over the angelic verse of the choir.
As a footy fan, is it unfair to expect him to play?
On one hand, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for a junior to be given an opportunity to play in his place on a Sunday, or to give any young up and coming player a chance to really shine. I still remember when Matt Moylan played his debut for the Panthers and it was only through this kind of opportunity that it was even possible. I would love for the Bulldogs to get some fresher blood running through the tunnel and out onto the field. In a strictly a football sense, it makes perfect sense, pending the comparative skill of said junior.
Also, as a big fan of people having free will and autonomy, I definitely support the idea of withdrawing from Sunday games for personal/religious reasons.
On the other hand, where is the line drawn?
Hopoate’s teammate Sam Perrett stepped up to Des Hasler and asked whether he could have the same kind of clause written into his contract and was denied. Perrett copped it on the chin when he was told by Dessie that Hopoate had the Christian Sabbath clause prearranged in his contract and the team just couldn’t handle having another player off permanently on Sundays.
Do agency and religious freedom have room within the NRL?
When you’re a part of a team, aren’t you supposed to forget about your own needs to some extent? Obviously, nobody is expecting rugby league players to lose their identity over a game where men wear shorter shorts than Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but the NRL reminds us that rugby league is more than just a game. It’s a way of life. Doesn’t that count for something?
This saga with Hopoate also makes me think he may not have been so lucky had he chose to sign with another football team. Hopoate was in talks with Craig Bellamy at the Melbourne Storm, who was also on board with this particular inclusion in his contract, but how many other clubs would honour an arrangement that would mean one of their big signings of the year could be barred from the Grand Final if they were to make it in October?
While the question can be asked, the answer is subjective. For those who watch rugby league, they’ve forgone traditional religion to make the sport theirs and to deify those within, whereas some of those who have earned the unofficial place of those who teach us about life and loss on Sundays, disrobe to kneel at the altar of someone they view as higher.
There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s who you are, but if such a rule is allowed, surely one must treat one as all.