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As part of the ‘virtual fan’ craze currently implemented by many sports clubs in the absence of real supporters while they play fixtures behind closed doors, NRL (National Rugby League) clubs are charging fans to have their images portrayed on a cardboard cut out in the empty stands.

In an effort to parody the idea, The Sunday Night with Matty Johns show created a mock-up with an image of Hitler on one of the cutouts at the Manly versus Canterbury match at Central Coast Stadium, which was broadcast by the station after the game.

The skit was met with shock by some fans who objected to the Nazi leader being shown on TV and deemed it to cause distress to the Jewish community, and Johns was forced to apologize, calling the sketch “poor taste and completely inappropriate” and claiming it should have never been aired.

“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,” Johns said in a statement.

“I know Fox Sports has apologized but I need to personally step up to this. 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.

“I’ve reached out and spoken directly to Vic Alhadeff at the [New South Wales] Jewish Board of Deputies this morning to apologise to the Jewish community and I’ll be apologising on air to all our viewers on Thursday night’s show.”

However, other rugby fans have taken a more relaxed approach and accused those taking offence of being “outraged by anything”, insisting the picture was simply a harmless joke removed from context.

It’s not the first time mischievous sports fans have taken advantage of the virtual fan initiative; UK government top aide Dominic Cummings was featured on a cutout at a Roosters versus Rabbitohs NRL match last week, fans attempting to poke fun at Boris Johnson’s advisor’s alleged flouting of lockdown rules to take numerous trips to the north of England from London, namely to Durham and Barnard Castle.

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