GWS Giants AFLW player Haneen Zreika has opened up on her much-publicised decision to withdraw from their clash with the Western Bulldogs, due to her refusal to wear the club’s pride jumper.
Zreika, the competition’s first Islam player, reportedly explained to her teammates during the week in an ’emotional and educational session for all players, which includes a number of LGBTQIA+ community members’.
The 22-year old on Friday posted to Instagram publicly revealing her reasons for the decision.
“As the first Australian Muslim woman in the AFLW, I have a responsibility to represent my faith and my community,” Zreika wrote.
“I respect people regardless of their sexual orientation.
“This decision was extremely difficult and I appreciate the support of AFL, Giants, my teammates.
“Inclusion is about creating a space where people are able to respect their right to choose how they live their life as long as they don’t advocate hate and division.
“My platform is not a place for people to disrespect and harass others so please be kind.”
Zreika’s teammates have been described as ‘incredibly supportive’ by former Giants player Alex Saundry, who told Fox Footy the club has her back.
“Haneen’s a proud Muslim woman and it’s been a really complex and difficult decision for her,” Saundry said.
“GWS as a club are the only club to hold an annual Iftar event and have a really strong connection to the Islamic community. They’ve just been super supportive and couldn’t have done more to support Haneen through this process. I know her teammates are really supportive of her too.”
Giants coach Alan McConnell agreed, saying after the match the club will welcome Zreika back into the team.
“As I said to Haneen, we can have similar opinions, different opinions, but they’ll never break the bond that we have for one another and she has with our team and her teammates. I’m very comfortable and confident that’s all intact,” McConnell said.
“We’re proud of Haneen, as we are all of our girls. We empathise with the challenges that she faces in this circumstance, but equally we’re really proud of the connection and obligations we have to the LGBTQI community.
“I’m actually really proud of the fact that I think we live really strong values in terms of inclusion every day of the week, every week of the year at our footy club, and in particular, in relation to this team.”
Zreika has played 24 games for GWS since making her debut in 2019.
Her absence didn’t affect the Giants, defeating the Bulldogs by 22 points, 7.1 (43) to 2.9 (21).
Zreika did attend the match at Henson Park in Sydney to support her teammates in their win, while she joined in the customary team song afterwards via FaceTime.