NRL does U-turn on scrapping anthem after fan backlash, PM call

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the action during a National Rugby League (NRL) match without fans between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters, as the 2020 season resumes following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Australia, May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's National Rugby League has backtracked on a decision to scrap the playing of the national anthem ahead of the "State of Origin" series following a backlash from fans and an intervention from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The league reinstated "Advance Australia Fair" on Thursday only hours after saying the anthem had been dropped from the program before next week's State of Origin opener between New South Wales and Queensland in Adelaide.

The state teams have lined up for the anthem before matches in the annual series for decades but a number of Indigenous Australian players declined to sing it last year, saying it did not represent them.

Earlier on Thursday, the NRL said it would reserve the anthem for international test matches, the title-deciding Grand Final, as well as matches on ANZAC Day, the national day of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars and conflicts.

The league quickly changed its tune after a backlash from fans on social and mainstream media.

"It was never intended to be a political statement," Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V'landys said of cancelling the anthem.

"I’ve always said we’ll listen to our fans and it’s obvious the fans want the anthem.

"We’ve had a COVID emergency all year and the country has fought it together."

The Daily Telegraph reported Prime Minister Morrison, a big rugby league fan, spoke to V'landys before the league reversed course.

Morrison welcomed the reinstatement.

"The NRL have done the right thing by listening to their fans and acting quickly," he said.

"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."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rtherford)

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