OPINION: Earlier this year Steve Tew, the CEO of New Zealand Rugby, said that keeping the Crusaders name along with the club’s symbols of knights on horseback was no longer “tenable.” So the money men rode into town. They branded the team from Christchurch with a new logo but they kept the old provocative name. And they branded us fools.
There were a lot of mealy words, but the bottom line, and that’s the line they seem to care about most, was that changing the name of the brand would cost too much. CEO Colin Mansbridge, board chairman Grant Jarrold and NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum came before us and said that the Crusaders name was here to stay.
And not for the first time in modern, diverse New Zealand, a culturally and ethnically sensitive decision was being fronted by three people who were men and pretty white. The great symbol of the not very brave new world of the Crusaders was the sight of Mansbridge and Jarrold standing on a platform in front of a sign that proclaimed “Welcome to our Home – Crusaders.”
The Crusaders branding was criticised after the Christchurch shootings
It troubles me that two of the men at the very top of this process are a banker and an accountant. Who was holding the moral compass? Where were the philosophers, where were the man and women of ethics, where was the Muslim community?
Oh well, if you can’t get a philosopher on the day, there’s always someone like Plato to turn to, even if he’s a bit dead to call on the telephone. In Book VIII of Plato’s the Republic, Socrates says that the prioritisation of wealth will not help a captain to navigate his ship safely, because the captain will always be steering towards the money and won’t be looking out for rocks or going in search of wisdom or honour.
And so it is, sadly, with the Crusaders. The pilots of the ship are bankers and accountants. They have set their course for the money. The game was up in June when Brent Impey, the chairman of New Zealand Rugby,
said; “The reality is that Adidas have got to make jerseys, there’s merchandising and that sort of stuff. You can’t just change the name of a professional team when there are existing contracts. So definitely not. There’s no intention and never has been any intention that the Crusaders name would change in 2020.”
The dread phrase is “that sort of stuff” by which Impey means money. Under the circumstances I am quite sure that Adidas and the rest could have been persuaded to make some new jerseys. It doesn’t take our local football team long to come up with some new kit and we have a fraction of the resources. But morality comes at a price.
If the will for change had really been there, then the Crusaders could have been given a new name and new kit and merchandise in time for 2020. After all Lendrum had told us, “We don’t see it as a cost, we see it as an investment into the future of the club. The bottom line numbers aren’t really worth discussing,”
I’m sorry, but it soon became apparent that the bottom line was all about the numbers and only the numbers. The word which kept coming up again and again at the launch of the ‘new’ Crusaders was brand. It was a hideous reminder of the rugby player formerly known as James O’Connor who once said, “I’m going to do what’s right for my brand.”
The Crusaders have done what’s right for their brand, not for the whole community in which they live. The press conference was dominated by brand. It culminated when Mansbridge said,”This club has an incredibly proud history, and celebrating that history is always going to be a vital part of our brand story.”
In order to tell “the brand story” – and please save us from such etymological vandalism – the Crusaders brought in design experts, a policy development firm and a research company to ask people what they thought. The spiritual children of Karl Popper were notable for their absence.
Mansbridge asserted, on more than one occasion, that the Crusaders hadn’t fully engaged with the Muslim community because it was “pretty obvious” they didn’t want to be involved. “We didn’t want them to be in a position where they had to ask. Frankly, they are too polite to say what they feel.”
This is not very inclusive on several levels. There is the uncomfortable manner of the use of we and they. And then there is the apparent obliviousness as to the cause of why the Muslim community might be reluctant to get involved.
Could it be fear? Fifty-one of their number have been tragically slaughtered by an extremist. Do you really think that the survivors and their relatives are going to come out and publicly state they would like the Crusaders to change their name? One or two have been brave enough to say something. But many fear the evangelical elements of the Crusaders’ support.
Enough have previously questioned the name, a name that cannot be wiped clean by rebranding. Language matters. No team would call itself the Gisborne Gestapo. It’s only a few verbal miles south to reach the (Canterbury) Crusaders.
The refusal to change their name has made the Crusaders worse than the Washington Redskins. At least the Redskins are part of an ethnically diverse debate which has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. The Redskins are wrong, but not as wrong as the Crusaders, who should have tragic motivation to do the right thing.
I would not have minded this whole tawdry affair so much, if the Crusaders had said; “We are from Christchurch. We represent a city that was built on Christian values and we uphold those values. Muslims are welcome in our city but not at the expense of Christianity. We are Crusaders for our faith.”
But of course the ‘franchise’ are Crusaders for our dosh. And most of their paying fan-base think it’s political correctness gone mad to change the name. That is what they say online and that is what they have told the research groups. So the name remains and even the horses have been ridden back into town, just not saddled by blokes wielding swords.
I feel for fans who think they are losing part of their heritage. But the Crusaders are only a generation old and most of these names were dreamed up by an ad agency or, like the Hurricanes, by some blokes in the back of a pub. It’s not the same as changing the name of a city with centuries of cultural history.
How much better if the Crusaders had become ‘The Shepherds’. The name speaks to local agriculture, but also of Christian pastoral care as well as reaching across faiths. Muhammad spoke of each of God’s messengers being a shepherd at one point in their lives, as he himself had been as a young man.
Surely if Tew, one of the founding fathers, was open to change, then the Crusaders too could have reached out. But sad to say, the club has botched the opportunity. And for what? A few pieces of silver.