Exeter will continue to call themselves the Chiefs, claiming the name dated back into the early 1900s and had a long history with people in the Devon area. However, as a mark of respect to the recent controversy, they have decided to stop using their ‘Big Chief’ matchday mascot.  

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The decision comes after the Gallagher Premiership club came under pressure in recent months following momentum from the Black Lives Matter movement which encouraged people to educate themselves on the significance of race.

It focused on the alleged offence Exeter cause by using Native American imagery for their logo and mascot after American NFL outfit, the Washington Redskins, announced they would undergo a review of their team’s name. They have since dropped the Redskins and will be known as just Washington for the new NFL season.   

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The petition for the Exeter Chiefs to drop their use of Indigenous Peoples’ imagery sparked a hectic discussion, resulting in Wednesday’s board meeting to review all sides of the debate. 

A statement from the club read: “The Exeter Rugby Club board today underwent a detailed review of the club’s branding following issues raised by the group Exeter Chiefs 4 Change.

“The process has included looking into lengthy submissions from those who wish to see immediate change and from those who are content that the current branding is not disrespectful to indigenous groups. A detailed dossier of all evidence was compiled ahead of today’s meeting and was seen by all members of the board and reviewed.

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“Part of the club’s review has seen the club engage with its sponsors and key partners to seek their views – and they have also listened to the response of our supporters, the wider rugby community and certain sections from the Native American community, all of whom have provided us with detailed observations in letters, emails, social content and videos.

“Content provided to the board indicated that the name Chiefs dated back into the early 1900s and had a long history with people in the Devon area. The board took the view that the use of the Chiefs logo was in fact highly respectful. 

“It was noted over the years we have had players and coaches from around the world with a wide range of nationalities and cultures. At no time have any players, coaches or their families said anything but positive comments about the branding or culture that exists at the club.

“The one aspect which the board felt could be regarded as disrespectful was the club’s mascot ‘Big Chief’ and as a mark of respect have decided to retire him. The club will be making no further comment on the matter.”

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The Exeter Chiefs For Change issued a statement in reply, outlining their disappointment with the decision that was reached. “It’s incredibly disappointing that Exeter Chiefs has thrown away this opportunity to show itself as an inclusive club. Indigenous Peoples have made it clear time and time again that all uses of their imagery in this way are offensive, harmful and unacceptable.

“Exeter’s refusal to fully listen to these pleas is tone-deaf and sticks two fingers up not only to them but to all minorities. We accept that the intention of the club for the branding was originally positive and not derogatory, but now they know it is not perceived in that way, they are making a conscious decision to be intentionally offensive by continuing to use it. The club claims that the imagery honours and respects the Indigenous cultures, but if they respect them why won’t they listen to them?

“As fans, we are disappointed and frustrated that this battle continues. As human beings, we are horrified that we still live in a society where a major sports club can treat Indigenous peoples like this. It reflects badly on rugby, Devon and the UK and we should all be thoroughly ashamed.

“This decision will not age well for the club – there is no doubt that the branding will eventually have to change as it is clear depictions like this are no different from gollies and other relics of the past. By refusing to deal with it properly now the club is lining themselves up for extensive reputational and commercial damage and bringing shame on all connected to the club in the meantime.

“It’s baffling that they deem this a price worth paying for selfishly and ignorantly clinging to a poorly-thought-out logo that’s only been only used for 20 of the club’s 150-years.”

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