WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Jun 8 – New Zealand rugby bosses have confirmed the Canterbury Crusaders will keep their name for at least another year, despite a backlash following the mosque attacks in the team’s hometown of Christchurch in March.
However, the team will drop the knight and sword image from its logo at the end of this year.
Independent research commissioned by the Crusaders in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, in which 51 Muslims died, showed opinion was divided on the name.
But “people on both sides of the divide are incredibly passionate about this club and what it represents to them,” Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said.
New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey told Radio Sport that there was “no intention and never has been any intention that the Crusaders name would change in 2020”.
But, he added, it was still being debated whether the name should change long-term.
The nine-times champion Crusaders, the most successful side in Super Rugby, have faced criticism over their name since the March 15 shootings targeting Muslim worshippers attending Friday prayers.
The Crusaders adopted the name when Super Rugby began in 1996, intending it as a nod to Christchurch’s strong links to England.
However, there has been a growing opinion that the name is offensive because of its association with the crusades waged by Christians against Muslims in the medieval period.
References to the crusades are said to have been written on weapons owned by the self-proclaimed white supremacist who has been charged with the mass murder.
A market research firm has been commissioned to review possible options for the rugby team, which Mansbridge said would take into account “all relevant opinions and, most importantly, we are committed to doing the right thing”.
The review will examine two options — dropping the Crusaders’ name entirely or retaining it but revamping the brand.
They have already dropped their traditional pre-match entertainment at home games, which featured sword-brandishing horsemen dressed as crusading knights in chainmail and tunics adorned with crosses.
But Impey said they could not consider an immediate name change because of existing contracts, particularly with merchandise manufacturers.
Mansbridge said any change would not come into effect until 2021 when the Crusaders licence is up for renewal.
“In the meantime, the Crusaders name will be retained for the remainder of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, but an interim change to the logo will come into effect for next season, with the removal of the knight and sword image,” Mansbridge said.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew described the removal of medieval theming as “an appropriate step for now”, but said any further consideration of the brand needed to be broader than a response to one event.
Similar debates have raged in the United States over the names of sports teams with Native American associations, such as the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
In 1997, the Washington Bullets basketball team became the Washington Wizards because then owner Abe Pollin did not want the side to have a name linked to violence.