The Crusaders rugby franchise has found itself in a bit of a public relations dilemma.

The team has built itself on a ‘crusading’ brand, with sword-wielding knights running into battle on horseback.

In an historical sense, the Crusades were a series of holy wars fought by Christians, largely against Muslim countries. Those who fought signed up to do so under the cross; they were fighting a religious fight, against people of another religion.

Geoff Troughton runs the religious studies programme at Victoria University. He’s in favour of a change, saying while words do change meaning over the years, the Canterbury branding is clearly a reference to the original Crusades. He says Crusaders were viewed very differently in other parts of the world. 

Newsroom sports journalist Steve Deane had written a divisive column on the issue. He favours a rebrand, saying the name was an issue even before the Christchurch attacks, but had now been brought into the spotlight.

“You just can’t have a name that is going to deeply trouble a section of your citizenry, and that’s the reality of the Crusaders,” he says.

“The arguments in favour of keeping the name are very much, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it and we like it’. The arguments in favour of getting rid of the name… are that you’re genuinely harming people who we should be caring for. That’s the way I see it.”

However, most people disagree with that view.

Recent opinion polls place a clear majority against a rebrand – with a key argument being that the name represented bravery and valour, as opposed to a violent war against Muslims.

Steve Deane says the majority’s opinion is not what mattered.

“The fact 90 percent of people support the name – you’re always going to get that when you’re looking at an issue where the minority is affected.”

“It’s the minority you need to think of here.”

New Zealand Rugby now has to weigh up the risk of disappointing fans, and the risk of being seen to ignore the plight of a targeted minority.

“The best thing for them to do is to make a bold move now, change the name, and say we’ve realised it wasn’t suitable,” added Deane.

“The problem isn’t going to go away.”

The Detail was made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.

Leave a comment