The Australian NRL is under fire after a cute idea to fill the grandstands with cardboard cutouts of fans was hijacked to include cardboard cutouts of an English serial killer along with Adolf Hitler.
The League’s 2020 season resumed last week following a 10-week hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. But with social distancing measures still in place around the country, all games are to be held in empty stadiums while fans are banned from attending. The Fan in the Stand scheme was rolled out as a novel way to respond to this: a way “to ensure NRL members and fans’ presence are still felt inside the stadium, on-screen and online until the crowds can return”, according to the NRL.
Supporters were given the opportunity to upload images of themselves online, have them printed out on recyclable materials and placed in the stands of live matches for a mere $22, The Guardian reports.
Naturally, this wholesome concept quickly went to shit. Eagle-eyed viewers noticed during the Penrith-versus-Canberra match on Sunday night that a photographic cutout of Harold Shipman, Britain’s most notorious serial killer, had made its way into the stands—raising questions around the screening process used by the NRL.
Shipman, a general practitioner who is believed to be one of the most prolific serial killers in modern history, was found guilty in 2000 of murdering 15 of his patients by lethal injection.
Sports media personality and former NRL player Matty Johns also drew the ire of fans after inserting an image of Hitler into a cardboard crowd scene as part of a sketch for his eponymous show on Fox Sports on Sunday night. He has since issued an apology.
“The segment on my Fox League show on Sunday in which we showed an image of Hitler in crowd cutouts was in poor taste and completely inappropriate,” Johns said. “I know Fox Sports has apologised but I need to personally step up to this. I know how raw and devastating those events remain for so many people and families.
“I acknowledge it was wrong and I apologise to our viewers and to everyone in the community who is rightly concerned and offended by the segment.”
Australia’s Anti Defamation Commission confirmed it had received numerous complaints about the sketch, which they said “simply went too far”.
“This is bad taste and trivialisation of mass murder taken to the extreme,” said Dvir Abramovich, the organisation’s chairman. “Using Hitler to elicit a laugh is inexcusable, degrades the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust, and is hurtful to survivors and their children.
“This was a disturbing abdication of judgment and a troubling lack of sensitivity.”