The Washington Redskins name has been a topic of controversy in the NFL for a number of years now, with protestors attempting to have ‘Redskin,’ a derogatory term for Native Americans, removed. Parallels can be drawn to the recent controversy surrounding the Crusaders, following the Christchurch Mosque massacre earlier this year, in which 51 were killed and the mass murderer is said to have had references to the crusades inscribed on his gun.

At the minute, the Super Rugby side are undertaking a perilous balancing act, between potential marketing difficulties, contractual agreements, pride in past successes and the moral deliberations of present era. Should they choose to ditch the reference to the Crusades, the wars of religion centred around Jerusalem between Christians and Muslims between the 11th and 13th centuries, pressure will inevitably fall upon Saracens to do the same. But will they? And is it the right course of action to take?

Although the Crusaders, following an independent review, have announced they will be dropping their current logo, they have delayed any decision regarding their name until after the 2020 season. This is a course of action supported by the Chief Executive of New Zealand rugby Steve Tew, a former Crusaders boss, who agrees that removing any medieval references from their branding is a suitable step to take. Tew however, has stated, “any change must not be seen as a knee jerk reaction to a single event,” recognising this is a charge that will undoubtedly be levelled at the Crusaders if they do decide to change their name. There are also practical considerations, such as the contractual relationship with Adidas regarding the Crusaders kit, to take into account.

Dr. Lindsay Diggleman, an associate dean and lecturer in history at the University of Auckland, believes dropping the Crusaders name would be a positive step, “I think they should put the Crusaders franchise behind them to bed, with great respect for what they’ve achieved.” The name was adopted in 1996, for the first Super Rugby season, in reference to Christchurch’s historic ties to England, and the franchise have won a record nine of the subsequent titles under the title ‘Crusaders.’

Upon this eventuality, Saracens, the current European Champions, would also face pressure to drop their links to the Crusades. The term ‘Saracen’ originally referred to the pre-Islamic nomadic peoples of the Syrian and Arabian desert, but during the time of the Crusades it became synonymous in Europe with Islam and religious war. It is important to note that it was not a term of self-identification but used by western writers to describe the ‘infidels’ in the east. The club were founded in 1876, with the name said to have been inspired by the “endurance, enthusiasm and perceived invincibility of Saladin’s desert warriors in the 12th century.” The team’s main rivals at the time were a side called the Crusaders.

Ultimately, the decision to rebrand both teams would be a brave, accepting recognition of the changed world in which we live. With extremism on the rise, unnecessary and provocative references to wars of the past should surely be avoided, and where possible, dropped. Pursuing a public image divorced from references to religious war seems a sensible, and not particularly difficult, action to take.


Written By Joe Ronan