One year ago, Australian rugby player Will Hopoate made international news for his decision not to play or train on Sunday.
This week, Hopoate, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and returned missionary, made international headlines again by agreeing to his team's request for him to play on Sundays this season.
“In a perfect world I wouldn’t play,” Hopoate said. “It’s something I’ve been churning over quite a bit in my heart and mind. Obviously I would love not to. But at the same time I have a duty to my employers, and that’s the Canterbury Bulldogs at the moment.”
Hopoate, who is currently in the process of negotiating a new contract, emphasized that “in a perfect world” he still wouldn’t play on Sundays.
“Hopoate made that clear when he used that term on six occasions in a nine-minute press conference at Bulldogs headquarters on Monday, hours after telling teammates he would be available to play the Sydney Roosters this Sunday,” the Australian Associated Press reported.
Elder Robert Dudfield, an area Seventy and director of public affairs for the LDS Church in Australia, issued the following statement Tuesday:
“The position of the church is that the decision to work or not work on Sunday is a personal matter. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches its members to honour the Sabbath day. Each person determines how they will do that according to their faith and circumstances.”
Hopoate will not train on Sundays or take part in any other NRL activities outside of matches.
Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle stated that if Hopoate is to be signed to a new contract next year, he will have to commit to playing on Sundays. Hopoate said that while he would like to remain with the Bulldogs after the 2017 season, he would be open to exploring offers from rival clubs that would allow him to miss Sunday games, according to the AP article.
While such choices are considered “a personal matter” within the LDS Church, the high-profile rugby player's decisions on Sabbath play have been public. A Daily Telegraph headline on May 16 read, “God’s Will OK to play Sunday,” a play on words from the previous headline "God's Will" following last year's decision not to play.
The news led to some critical commentary, including from a group of sports journalists on an NRL sports talk show who asked questions like “It’s all about who’s got the hand, isn’t it, in the negotiation?” and "has he put (rugby) ahead of his beliefs?”
Stuff.co.nz opinion columnist Phil Lutton, however, defended Hopoate.
“Hopoate doesn't deserve anyone's scorn for his decision, nor should he be labelled a hypocrite. If anything, he's a late-blooming realist that swum against the tide for as long as possible, before succumbing to its currents,” Lutton wrote. “He will likely find his faith and his football can still co-exist when he plays on Sundays and one will not preclude him from the other, even if as he concedes, the arrangement isn't perfect.”
Hopoate has never been ashamed to share his beliefs. The fullback has appeared in multiple videos for the LDS Church, including a Mormon.org “I am a Mormon” video. His convictions were applauded last year by Canterbury coach Des Hasler following his initial decision to sit out Sunday games.
“This is what makes Will so special,” Hasler told the Sunday Telegraph. “His beliefs distinguish him and we are very proud to have such a person within our walls. To deny something that is so fundamental to a person is to deny that person the right to be who they are.”