WELLINGTON, New Zealand – The Crusaders Super Rugby team has dispensed with the knights on horseback which have been traditional mascots in pre-match entertainment after attacks on two mosques in Christchurch provoked criticism of the name and symbolism.
New Zealand Rugby says the branding the Christchurch-based club has used since Super Rugby began in 1996 is "no longer tenable" after the mosque shootings which left 50 dead. A marketing company has been engaged to examine alternatives, including a name change or a change of branding which might make the name less contentious.
"In the wake of the Christchurch attacks, it is apparent that the symbolism the club has used, combined with the Crusaders name, is offensive to some in the community due to its association with the religious Crusades between Christians and Muslims," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said on Wednesday.
The Crusaders had delayed making changes after the March 15 shootings, arguing that the decision should be reserved until a less sensitive time.
But, urged by national rugby authorities, Crusaders chief executive Colin Mainsbridge accepted the club had an obligation to urgently but thoroughly address a divisive issue and he was "committed to do the right thing."
"This is an event that rocked our community and brought some important issues to the fore," Mansbridge said. "One of the contentious issues that has been brought up in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks is the name of our rugby team — the Crusaders.
"Because of our desire to be the best we can be and to support our community, we are treating the question around the appropriateness of our brand extremely seriously."
Mainsbridge said the club would have to take into consideration the feelings of fans who have a strong emotional tie to the name. He accepted others in the community saw the name as a reference to the religious crusades of the 11th and 13th centuries when Christian and Muslim armies clashed over the ownership of holy sites in the eastern Mediterranean.
"Our challenge is that the name Crusader has come to mean something quite different to many of the team's supporters," Mainsbridge said. "The region has been through a number of tragic and trying events and the team has played an important role in helping galvanize the community and raise spirits following significant events. Through these events, the Crusaders name has become more reflective of a positive crusade."
But Tew said the current symbolism, which included the use of the crusading knights on horseback, would have to change.
"Maintaining the status quo in terms of the Crusaders name along with the current imagery of knights on horseback is, in our view, no longer tenable," he said. "That is therefore not one of the options that we will be considering."
Tew said marketing experts would investigate two options: either retaining the Crusaders name but changing the branding and associated imagery, or undertaking a complete rebranding.
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