Fox Sports Australia have issued an apology after using an image of Adolf Hitler during a National Rugby League highlights show on Sunday in what is the latest gaff surrounding the inclusion of fan images in stadium seats.
A superimposed black-and-white image of Hitler was shown during the 'Sunday Night with Matty Johns' programme, with placards of fans on display due to the stadia being closed to supporters as part of the NRL’s Covid-19 measures.
The image of Hitler was not on display at any NRL match on the first weekend back, but was included on the round-up show shown on Sunday in what appeared to be a deliberately photoshopped image. It also appeared next to a picture of Nine Network presenter Richard Wilkins.
Fans immediately spotted the image of Hitler and vented their anger through social media, which then drew responses from Jewish organisations condemning the inclusion of Hitler in the highlights show.
Johns also found himself under fire for the ill-advised gag.
"Fox Sports is very concerned by an incident involving an inappropriate image shown as part of a segment discussing NRL crowd cutouts," a statement from the broadcaster read.
"We are currently reviewing the circumstances and examining the action we need to ensure those involved understand it is not acceptable. We sincerely apologise for the offence the image has caused."
Alex Ryvchin, co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, condemned the incident and criticised the "casualisation of Hitler, Nazis, and by extension their crimes."
He wrote on Twitter: "This sort of stupidity, the casualisation of Hitler, Nazis, and by extension their crimes, is what leads to swastikas being graffitied throughout our cities and school kids being harassed with gas chamber jokes. @MattyShowsFox should tell their viewers it's not on."
Johns said that he had spoken to the New South Wales state Jewish Board of Deputies by phone to apologise, and also plans to apologise publicly on the air during his next TV program on Thursday.
"The segment ... was in poor taste and completely inappropriate," Johns, a former top-flight player and now commentator, said in a statement. "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."
The NRL will also conduct a review of the ‘Fan in the Stands’ initiative, which are available to purchase at A$22 each. After uploading a picture of themselves online, fans can have their image displayed on 100 per cent recyclable cardboard at the home stadium of their choice, with A$1 from each transaction donated to charity.
The initiative has been a popular addition among supporters, but it has also come with controversy. British serial killer Dr Harold Shipman was displayed at a game between the Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights at Campbelltown on Sunday. Shipman was a general practitioner found guilty of 15 counts of murder in 2000, though his number of victims was suspected to be much higher. However, his photo would be unrecognisable to most Australians.
Boris Johnson’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, was also spotted at Friday’s match between the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs, having been accused of breaking UK lockdown restrictions earlier in the week.
While there is a screening process in place at third-party company Clunk Murphy, not all images will be picked up due to their unfamiliarity in Australia.
"We are reviewing the vetting process for Fan In The Stand," an NRL spokesman said. "The weekend was a trial run and trials are designed to iron out issues."
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