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League’s first Muslim player didn’t want to wear jumper on religious grounds but is said to have support and respect of teammates
GWS Giants midfielder Haneen Zreika will sit out the club’s AFLW clash with the Western Bulldogs after deciding she could not wear the new pride jumper due to her faith.
Zreika, 22, grew up in Western Sydney and was the first Muslim AFLW player when she debuted in 2019, coming to Australian rules football from a rugby league background.
This is the first year that the Giants have had a purpose-designed jumper for pride round which supports inclusion and diversity – particularly for the LGBTQ+ community.
While pride round was officially celebrated last week, the club decided to debut the jumper at Friday’s first home game of the 2022 season at Henson Park against the Western Bulldogs.
Zreika played in the pride round last year and in the official 2022 pride round match last week. She also ran through the banner with her teammates on the weekend which read: “Pride round: an inclusive game for all. Everyone is welcome.”
Guardian Australia understands the club undertook extensive consultation with the Muslim community in the lead-up to Zrieka’s decision.
Zreika spoke openly with the playing group about the tension between her support for pride round as well as her LGBTQ+ teammates and her faith.
It’s understood she is comfortable with her decision but did not make it lightly and that it was a matter of balancing her personal faith, her support for the principles of pride and her teammates, and the expectations of her community.
While she has been targeted by some commentators on social media for the decision, she is said to have the support and respect of her teammates.
Zreika is expected to attend Friday night’s match and support her teammates from the sidelines. The Giants declined to comment.
The team for the Bulldogs game, which was announced on Thursday evening, lists Zreika as not playing for personal reasons.
The selection includes two debut players – Casidhe Simmons and Brodee Mowbray – and also sees defenders Louise Stephenson and Libby Graham on the field.
Rebecca Privitelli, Chloe Dalton, Pepa Randall and Katie Loynes will not play due to the AFL’s health and safety protocols.