Opinion: Crusaders name change debate becoming sinister

7:55 pm on 3 April 2019

Opinion - So it's official: the Crusaders and NZ Rugby acknowledge that the team name and branding is problematic.

Which is kind of the second time they've done it in the wake of the events of 15 March, so it's probably fair to say it's just a little bit more official because now they're paying a marketing firm to come to a conclusion for them.

The Crusaders Horses during the Super Rugby match at Christchurch Stadium, 9 March 2019.

The Crusaders Horses during the Super Rugby match at Christchurch Stadium, 9 March 2019. Photo: Photosport

One thing they should probably stop doing is trying to spin that the "Crusaders name has become more reflective of a positive Crusade" as a result of the events. That is marketing speak at its most shallow and tone deaf - if there was any truth to that at all then we wouldn't be having this debate.

They have rightfully dropped their sword-swinging horsemen as part of the pre-game entertainment, however in doing so they have tacitly acknowledged that there is an issue with the branding of the team, and have simply set the wheels in motion for much wider change.

Will this mean that 2019 is the Last Crusade? While it possibly will be, there is at least one significant precedent that proves otherwise.

The NBA's current champion team started out their existence as the Philadelphia Warriors, drawing their name from the common convention of using American Indian imagery to brand and sell teams. Given that it was 1946, that brand was racist cartoon logo of a smiling Indian bouncing a basketball (this was about the same time that the Cleveland Indians brought in their now-infamous Chief Wahoo logo as well).

The team eventually moved to its new home in Oakland in 1962, and by 1971 had eliminated all previous connections to its former imagery - except it kept the name 'Warriors'. The new logo of the Golden Gate Bridge is now pretty well-known worldwide, and has no link to any sort of Warrior-like mentality. The Golden State Warriors brand is, like the Crusaders, one built on success in their sport rather than any sort of racial connotations.

That was almost 50 years ago, though. The Crusaders' biggest problem is that the talk around them isn't going to go away quickly.

It's been two and a half weeks since I first put forward my thoughts on the matter - that the Crusaders needed to change their name because there was probably enough to warrant doing so anyway. It's generated easily the most feedback of anything I've done, with about a 50/50 split in favour and those opposed.

The opposition correspondence was often little more than poorly spelled abuse and threats, however there was more than enough that ironically proved what I meant anyway. It came in the form of badly informed amateur historians claiming that there's nothing wrong with the name 'Crusaders' because there was nothing wrong with the crusades themselves, in fact we should be celebrating them because they were in defence of Christianity against Islam (which, if nothing else, is completely missing the point). One went so far as to regale the feats of some of the historic Christian figures that were written on the gun used in the 15 March attacks.

And there it is. As much as the Crusaders would like it not to be, the whole name debate has already become a vessel for something a lot more sinister. It's already transforming into another thing entirely, which is a way for some people to talk about how they really feel about 15 March without actually really talking about it.

There are plenty of decent rugby folks out there that understandably want the name retained due to their own personal attachment to a team that's brought them joy and Super Rugby titles over the past two-and-a-half decades. But it's worth remembering that the people out there who still harbour ill-will towards our Muslim community are very much on that side of the argument too.

Do you really want to be lumped in with that lot?

*Frustration at his own shortcomings as a rugby player and multiple concussions have left Jamie with an innate ability to find fault with rules, players, matches and sporting bodies alike.

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