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Crusaders' red herring name debate

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Debate over Crusaders name change is example of opportunistic political correctness gone mad

It was good to watch Crusaders get back to doing what it does best this weekend, playing rugby. They might not have done it particularly well, their defence all over the place in the early part of the 12-20 loss, but their visibility out on a pitch would still have been nourishment for the soul at the end of a difficult week for their community. 

It was convenient they were scheduled to play across the ditch at the Waratahs. The Sydney side were ironically Crusaders’ first opponents when the club got back to playing following the devastating Christchurch earthquake some years ago.

Now, here were the Australians again, standing in solidarity with their Kiwi brothers at another sad time, the grieving franchise getting back to work and valiantly attempting to restore some sense of normality to their lives. 

There was a processional walk out onto the pitch, a combined two-team huddle, a perfectly observed minute’s silence along with the wearing of eye-catching armbands that touchingly said ‘United 15-3-19’.

The runaround in the Sydney rain was welcome. The last thing Christchurch would have needed was a rugby match going on at home at a time when its city’s population is respectfully working its way through the series of funerals for the 50 people tragically killed in the terror attack on two mosques. 

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Best leave playing that first game until April 6 when they host Brumbies. By then three weeks will have passed and a more informed sense of perspective can be applied to the sport and its influence on the city.

It has been curious how the club’s name was hijacked so quickly in the aftermath of the March 15 shootings. The focus in the sorrowful aftermath should have been fully on the tragedy that had just occurred, honouring the life stories of the wonderful people who had perished and caring for those still alive but with injuries that need healing.cHow sport got dragged into this arena didn’t make sense. 

When he joined last October, CEO Colin Mansbridge could never have envisaged a situation where he would have confront calls for the club to change its name. When he arrived in from his previous post as BNZ’s head of agri-business to replace Hamish Riach, who had been in the role for 17 years, he was spot on describing Crusaders as the “gold standard for professional rugby clubs in the world”. The Crusaders’ reputation for excellence truly knows no bounds.  

Five months later, though, he was now having to address sudden criticism of a name that had served them so well and existed uncriticised ever since the game turned pro over 20 years ago. To give Mansbridge his due, he handled his response professionally.

He showed empathy. “This is a conversation that we should have.” But he also showed leadership. “We also believe that the time for that is not right now.” With emotions raw and real, this was no issue for a knee-jerk reaction. There will be a more appropriate time in the weeks and months ahead. 

Whenever that discussion does take place the fact of the matter must be that Crusaders, as a rugby club, have been promoting nothing but a positive message since their inception. They are a reflection of a crusade for peace, for unity, for inclusiveness, for community spirit. These are rugby ideals shared the world over by clubs everywhere. It’s just rugby. Nothing else. 

Crusaders’ Mitchell Hunt and his team look dejected after a Waratahs try during the round six Super Rugby match in Sydney (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

When the time comes to talk, Crusaders’ administrators should take their lead from Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who has been an ambassadorial beacon since the tragedy broke. What has especially stood out is her refusal to mention the name of the perpetrator of these horrific crimes. 

In doing so, she has robbed him of the notoriety he would have hoped to have gained, denied him the recognition he would have felt his name would have received on foot of his abhorrent acts. He has been rendered anonymous in the fall-out, which is why the ongoing debate about whether Crusaders should change their name is flawed. 

If a name change were to happen, the murderer will have won. He will have forced the world’s most successful professional rugby club into an alteration that will always be traced back to these terrible events of March 15. 

He will be given the oxygen he craves. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Instead, he should be left to rot in anonymity and the Crusaders judiciously allowed to keep going about their rugby business in the way they have always done. 

There are already plenty of reasons for people not to go and watch the club when it plays at home. The usual 7.35pm kick-off doesn’t appeal to families, the TV experience offers much much insight and the stadium in Addington is thrown together with scaffolding. Hardly the most comfortable night out in the depths of winter. 

Providing another excuse not to go – changing the club’s name and stealing an identity that gives it its global respect – appears an unnecessary step too far.

The Crusaders and Waratahs teams form a huddle together to pay their respects to the victims of the March 15 Christchurch shootings (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

If the logic of those who feel a name change is warranted, then the NZRU should be looking at getting rid of the Highlanders, getting rid of the Chiefs and getting them to also change due to the historical connotations of their names.

The RFU should request Saracens in England to call themselves something else. Heck, perhaps even the Christchurch politicians should propose changing the name of their city as it isn’t reflective of other religions in the area.  

This debate over the Crusaders name change has been a red herring this past week, an example of opportunistic political correctness gone mad. 

Rugby should never have got all tangled up in fall-out from the terror attack. But we’re here now and hopefully common sense will hold sway whenever these conversations with a range of people, including the Muslim community in the Christchurch region, take place.

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Debate over Crusaders name change is example of opportunistic political correctness gone mad