Hitler, Dr. Death among NRL ‘fans’

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AFP / Patrick HAMILTON The NRL has resumed behind closed doors

A feel-good campaign allowing fans to have cardboard cut-outs of themselves at Australian rugby league games has been hijacked by pranksters, with a notorious serial killer among those making an appearance — while one TV show edited an image of Adolf Hitler into the crowd.

The National Rugby League launched “Fan in the Stand” to coincide with the sport’s return last weekend after its season was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Supporters are barred from stadiums under strict health protocols, but can pay Aus$22 (US$15) to have their photo printed on a life-size cut-out and placed in the stands of their team’s home venue.

While most played by the rules, TV viewers spotted some anomalies as cameras panned over the fake fans, including a dog and another showing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s embattled top aide Dominic Cummings.

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Cummings sparked a political scandal when newspapers discovered that he left London and took a cross-country trip to stay on his parents’ property during Britain’s strict coronavirus lockdown.

But it was a cut-out of infamous serial killer Harold Shipman, known as “Dr. Death”, at Sunday’s clash between the Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights that caused concerns.

Shipman was an English doctor who in 2000 was found guilty of murdering 15 patients, although he is widely believed to have killed more than 200.

Some found it amusing, but others did not.

In a statement to Australian media, the NRL said: “We are reviewing the vetting process for Fan In The Stand. The weekend was a trial run and trials are designed to iron out issues.”

Broadcaster Fox Sports, meanwhile, apologised after one of its television shows photoshopped an image of Hitler onto one of the cut-outs, sparking condemnation for its “stupidity” from the Australian Jewish community.

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“The segment on my Fox League show on Sunday in which we showed an image of Hitler in crowd cut-outs was in poor taste and completely inappropriate,” said the show’s host Matty Johns, a former Australia international.

“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.”

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