CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The world’s most successful rugby franchise is under pressure to change its name following the mosque shootings in Christchurch.
The Canterbury Crusaders has won the Super Rugby Championship nine times since the competition began in 1996. The championship involved teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa at the beginning, but has since included a team from Argentina and one from Japan.
Christchurch is the major city in the Canterbury region of New Zealand.
After the killing of 50 people at two Christchurch mosques on Friday, commentators have called for the Crusaders to change name.
To critics, the name carries undertones of religious war and hatred. The Crusades refer to the religious wars between Christians and Muslims in part to secure control of holy sites considered sacred by both groups. Eight major Crusades occurred between 1096 and 1291.
The Crusaders rugby team logo features a sword-wielding Knight. At the start of each home game in Christchurch, men dressed as crusading Knights ride horses on to the field to the tune of Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis.
Christchurch-based writer James Dann was one of the first to call for a name change for the region’s treasured rugby team.
“I don’t see how the Crusaders can ever play a match under that name in this city again,” he wrote on Twitter.
He described the Crusaders as “a symbol of white rage against Muslims”, adding that “We don’t have to find a new name for them yet. We all know that they represent Canterbury. The search for a new name could be a chance for the region to reflect on the trauma of the last decade, and choose something that reflects our strength, and dare I say, resilience.”
Paul Thompson, chief executive of Radio New Zealand, the country’s public broadcaster, chimed in, tweeting that: “The Crusaders have to change their name, and change it now,” Thompson wrote on Twitter.
The editor of current affairs news outlet Newsroom, Tim Murphy, wrote on Twitter: “It’s easy for the Crusaders to drop that absurd name – just change it to the Champions.”
In response, Crusaders management released a statement saying the name was “a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community”.
The name was not “a religious statement”.
“Like all New Zealanders, the Crusaders team and organisation are deeply shocked by this tragedy and our thoughts primarily are with the victims and their families right now. This is bigger than rugby and we’re absolutely heartbroken for our wider community, which is where our thoughts are at this point in time.
The statement continued: “In terms of the Crusaders name, we acknowledge and understand the concerns that have been raised. For us, the Crusaders name is a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community, and certainly not a religious statement. What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch yesterday; our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit.
“This team and the wider organisation are united with our community in standing against such abhorrent acts as that which occurred [on Friday] in Christchurch, and in standing in support of our Muslim community.
A gunman walked into the Masjid Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch and opened fire with a semi-automatic gun. He livestreamed the attack. A second shooting took place not long after at another mosque in the city.
Twenty-eight-year-old Brenton Tarrant - who has travelled to Europe and visited crusader sites - has been charged with murder after the attacks.