Please excuse the pun, but the BNZ will be laughing all the way to their bank.
On a day when Sanzaar revealed the shape of its Super Rugby competition, the headlines were hogged by Sonny Bill Williams and his apparent protest against the bank backing the Blues. When we should be celebrating Sanzaar’s sensible shift back to the future with 15 teams to contest the title next year (the four Australian and South African teams are still to be confirmed), it’s Tape-Gate everyone’s talking about.
Williams taped over the bank’s logo on the collar of his Blues jersey, immediately grabbing attention away from his return to the game after an Achilles injury; the Blues’ reasonably impressive performance against the Highlanders; and the southerners’ terrific win. He could’ve done it subtly, with blue tape, perhaps, that few will have noticed, but he didn’t. He might’ve done it earlier, at a Blues’ training, for instance, but that wouldn’t have garnered the attention he so obviously wanted. Because, let’s be real about this, Williams didn’t cover up the logo hoping his act of defiance would go undetected. He wanted the publicity he has received.
The issue has detracted from the Hurricanes’ game-of-two-halves win against the Waratahs and the Chiefs losing to a highly impressive Stormers side who declared that this title is not just for Kiwi sides to lose.
Tape-gate also robbed Sanzaar of its rare moment of sanity. A time when they have actually listened to their fans (well, sort of) and returned the game to it’s 2011-15 state. From next year, as earlier revealed on newsroom.co.nz, it will be contested in three conferences with the winners of each and the five next best graduating to the top eight playoffs. The Sunwolves will play in the Australian conference and the Jaguares with the South Africans. It’s a remarkable admission by Sanzaar that their expansion failed. New Zealand fans will love it because they get a double round of derbies combined with four games against each of the other two conferences. It’s not perfect because every team doesn’t play every team, but it’s considerably better than the fiasco we’ve had with the not-so-Super 18.
This should’ve been Sanzaar’s moment, but it’s not. As is often the case with Williams, he is the focus of attention. It happened after the All Blacks won the 2011 World Cup when he failed to turn up to the public parade to celebrate the victory; and again four years later when the All Blacks’ feat of becoming the first team to win the title back-to-back and the first All Blacks side to win the title outside New Zealand was overshadowed by Williams giving his winners medal to a young fan.
It is ridiculous to suggest Williams planned to steal Sanzaar’s thunder. Even his timing isn’t that accurate, but he and his penchant for tape is still all people are talking and tweeting about. Reaction to Tape-Gate in the dubious world of social media has been varied. Some ask “why now” when he has worn BNZ on the front of his jersey for the Crusaders and Chiefs, and in the Blues’ promotional photos and at training. Others ask how he equates the stance with AIG’s support for the All Blacks via the front of the jersey, and ASB as a sponsor. And why cover over BNZ and not Investec, a bank brand on the sleeve of his shirt?
The fact is Williams has asked not to be involved in the promotion of tobacco, alcohol, gambling and finance – and granted that request under the terms of the collective agreement. It’s a conscientious objection that fits with his Muslim faith. That’s fine. No one should quibble with a person’s right to decide whom they are associated with. But, as many have posted on social media, Williams is happy to take the pay cheques those companies provide through the All Blacks and Super Rugby. Does that make his stance shallow and hypocritical? Perhaps.
Williams, in the twitter-sphere that has been in a frenzy since he ran out with his collar taped, has said he will explain all soon. The Blues say they were unaware he was going to alter the jersey and his skipper, James Parsons, says he didn’t know he had done so, but supported his right to freedom of expression. BNZ say they have no problem with what Williams did.
Of all the things that have been said about this issue, BNZ’s stance is perhaps the most bizarre. Why would you pay what I understand to be about $170,000 to advertise on the jersey collar only to be happy for a high profile player to cover it up?
Why, well perhaps because this saga has thrust BNZ into the limelight. Who knew, before Tape-Gate, that they had their name on the collar? Williams’ act has given BNZ’s sponsorship massive publicity, way in excess of what they paid the Blues. They must be chuckling to themselves about that.
Taped over but far from hidden. Tape-Gate has been an ironic burst of publicity for the Blues’ bank.