Culture & Sport

In Australia, a rugby club criticized for a jersey with U.S. Army images

The Wests Tigers, an Australian professional rugby league team, wanted to pay tribute to the Australian Army with a jersey designed specifically for Anzac Day, except that it used images of the U.S. Army. The club will redesign the jersey.

Wests Tigers controversial jersey for Anzac day
The Wests Tigers’ controversial jersey for Anzac Day. Soldiers depicted on the jersey are Americans. | © Wests Tigers

In Australia, Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance on April 25, commemorating the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) created during WWI. For the occasion, the Wests Tigers released on Monday a unique commemorative jersey “paying tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their loyal service animals.”

But it didn’t go as planned, the jersey creating controversy because of the images they used.

The West Tigers are an Australian professional rugby league team based in Sidney’s metropolitan area. They play in the National Rugby League (NRL), the highest competition, with 16 Australian and one New Zealander franchises, in one of the most popular sports in the country. The men’s team will play an ANZAC Round match against Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles two days before Anzac Day. Players will wear the commemorative jersey during the game.

But as the club looked into deepening their “ties to the local community,” the jersey didn’t depict the soldiers accurately.

Fans and commentators strongly criticized the jersey because it used images representing the United States Army. The USS Lassen helicopter, the weaponry and the uniforms are from the U.S. military.

As a consequence, the club on Wednesday announced it would redesign the commemorative jersey immediately, “criticized because an image on the jersey does not accurately depict Australian or New Zealand troops.”

The club stated it is “deeply sorry if the use of this image has in any way offended anyone” and “deeply regret any offense the use of this stock image may have caused.”

To launch this jersey, the club worked with the Holsworthy Barracks, a military barrack from the Australian Army near Sidney, home to training institutions and various regular and reserve army units. They have “sighted and approved all collateral relating to the release of the jersey,” according to a previous version of the club statement shared by Australian media and now removed from the West Tigers’ website.

In its original version, the club justified that “the soldiers on the jersey simply depict the modern-day soldier serving in a desert environment. […] The image in question, which is a stock image, has been purchased under license by our official apparel partner. The final design was approved by NRL Licensing,” adding the chevron on the jersey was an authentic replica of the Australian Army camouflage and that Australian and New Zealand flags were represented on the jersey’s shoulders.

Illustrations used on the jersey can be found on an image database with a search for ‘soldiers in the desert‘.

Steeden, an iconic rugby league brand primarily known for its ball and the official apparel partner for Wests Tigers’ jerseys, didn’t publicly react to the controversy.

The jersey to be worn by players will be auctioned after the match, with proceeds going to a charity supporting the families of military veterans. The original commemorative jersey was removed from their online store.

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