Rugby team considers name change in wake of Christchurch mosque attacks

Crusader horsemen have been a traditional part of pre-match entertainement for the Christchurch-based Crusaders team. Picture: Mark Baker/AP
Crusader horsemen have been a traditional part of pre-match entertainement for the Christchurch-based Crusaders team. Picture: Mark Baker/AP
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The Crusaders Super Rugby team in New Zealand has dispensed with the knights on horseback which have been a traditional part of their pre-match entertainment after attacks on two mosques in Christchurch provoked criticism of the club’s 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.

“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.

Crusaders chief executive Colin Mainsbridge accepted the club had an obligation to urgently address a divisive issue.

“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 a name change would not take place this year but he accepted some 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. Mainsbridge said that was “not what we intended”.

“We went and got some expert advice and one of the things that was quite clear, if you put the name Crusaders together with the horses and the crosses and the swords and you do those things together, it’s a clear reference to the first definition of what the word crusader means,” he said.

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.