London, United Kingdom, Jan 23 – Rugby superstar Sonny Bill Williams is set to refuse to wear the logo of Super League sponsor Betfred due to his religious beliefs, says Toronto Wolfpack chairman Bob Hunter.
The 34-year-old New Zealander, who switched codes for the second time following last year’s rugby union World Cup in Japan, converted to Islam in 2009.
Betfred have sponsored rugby league competition Super League since 2017 and last year agreed a two-year contract extension.
“We’re in discussions with Super League about this, but Sonny has been very clear in his stance on the matter,” Hunter told the Daily Telegraph.
“I think Betfred will benefit by taking the position that we respect and honour the player’s religious beliefs.
“In today’s society there are some very sensitive issues but I think the sponsor can say ‘yes, OK, we understand this. He’s a big brand and big name but we get it’.”
In 2017, Williams covered up a Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) logo on his Auckland Blues shirt.
It later emerged that he was exercising a “conscientious objection” clause in his contract, telling New Zealand Rugby he did not want to wear the logos of banks, alcohol brands or gambling sponsors.
Williams initially switched from league to union in 2008 and won back-to-back World Cups, earning 58 caps for the All Blacks. He has also tried his hand at boxing.
The former All Black is reportedly the highest-paid player in either code of rugby after signing a two-year deal at the Canadian club and Hunter said he had been given shares in the club as part of his package.
Hunter said Toronto were already starting to cash in on their big-name recruit before he had even played a competitive match.
“The fan interest just generally and the amount of media attention which helps you sell everything has been tremendous,” he said.
“A lot of my friends don’t understand rugby league and are not Wolfpack fans yet say ‘but I heard you signed this really big player, the LeBron James of rugby league’.
“Our season subscriptions have gone up about 30 percent and our sponsorship dollars are up 35 and it could (be) 40 percent by the end of the year.”
Toronto kick off their Super League campaign on February 2 against Castleford Tigers.
They will play a number of their early “home” matches in Britain due to the harsh Canadian winter. Their first game in Toronto will be in April.