The NRL has backflipped on a decision not to play the national anthem during this year’s State of Origin series after a backlash from fans, with Peter V’landys saying the initial decision “was never about politics”.
The decision to scrap Advance Australia Fair ahead of next week’s 2020 series opener was made by an independent commission on Wednesday following consultation with the chairmen of the New South Wales and Queensland rugby leagues.
But by Thursday afternoon, the Australian Rugby League Commission had made a U-turn after an intervention by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, who spoke to V’landys.
“This is a welcome decision by the NRL,” Morrison said. “The NRL have done the right thing by listening to their fans and acting quickly to overturn their choice not to play the national anthem at the Origin series.
“We have all faced a year of struggle and heartbreak and it has never been more important to be coming together to celebrate Australia and to be able to sing together our national anthem at the game so many of us love.”
It would have been the first time in 40 years the national anthem had not been played before an Origin game.
V’landys, the ARLC chairman, said: “Our decision not to play the anthem was never about politics. We have always been committed to the anthem as shown at the grand final last weekend.
“The original decision not to play the anthem at Origin was about the rivalry and tribalism associated with the Origin series.
“However, having listened to the public response and given the strong national unity in fighting the Covid pandemic together, the commission has decided it is important to ensure that unity continues.
“We have always been a commission that listens to our fans. We have heard the message and acted accordingly.”
The NRL chief executive, Andrew Abdo, had told the Daily Telegraph the decision was made to make the game even more intense than usual by not having to break off for the anthem after the players ran out onto the pitch.
Before last year’s series, the Indigenous players Cody Walker, Josh Addo-Carr and Latrell Mitchell spoke out about their refusal to sing the anthem. Of the 34 players to take the field for game one in June last year, 11 players appeared not to sing during the pre-match ceremony.
The issue prompted a national debate over the singing of the anthem and how Indigenous people feel about the song, particularly the lyrics declaring Australians are “young and free”.
As a result, the national anthem was not played before this year’s Indigenous All Stars match.