Crusaders vs. British Irish Lions at AMI Stadium on June 10, 2017 in Christchurch, New Zealand (Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Crusaders have to change their name, and change it now

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Friday, people are aruging that the Crusaders name is now problematic, writes Jamie Wall for RNZ. Let’s face it, though: it always was.

‘Problematic’.

It’s a word that gets bandied around a bit these days, usually about something someone has said on social media, or something they’ve done in the past. Generally reserved for celebrities that have done something stupid, or endorsed some questionable line of thinking.

People are saying the Crusaders name, in the wake of what happened on Friday, is now problematic. Let’s face it, though: it always was.

If you didn’t know, the Crusades were a centuries-long series of conflicts over the ownership of Jerusalem (among other things). What happened during them, like all major historical events, was incredibly complex. But it doesn’t mask the fact that it was essentially a multi-national force of European Christian power against Islam, and even though they started almost 1,000 years ago, the effects of the Crusades are still very much being felt to this day.

So, when centuries later a rugby team was named the Crusaders, it probably should have set off a few alarm bells.

Crusaders fans show their support during the Super Rugby Semi Final match between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

However, this was 1996. The Super Rugby team naming process was seemingly haphazard at best, with the Hurricanes being named after a weather event that can’t possibly happen in New Zealand (they’re called cyclones in this part of the world), and the Blues being obviously left till last and only given about five minutes worth of thought before they came to a final decision. The Highlanders name seems fine, but that too probably falls into a problematic category of cultural appropriation given that their logo is based off Braveheart – one of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time.

But the ‘Crusaders’ always rang a little bit off-key, even when they turned into the powerhouse team of the Super Rugby competition. With their motif of crosses and riders brandishing swords above their head as if they were riding across the desert to do battle with their Muslim foes, you couldn’t help but think that someone whose ancestry dated back to the other side of that conflict would find it confusing at best, and threatening at worst.

The name is clearly trying to play on Christchurch’s English heritage, which in itself is a bit of a fallacy given that the original crusaders were a massive mixture from the kingdoms of Western Europe. In fact, the most famous English crusader of all, King Richard I or Richard the Lionheart, spent most of his life in France (he is even buried there) and couldn’t even speak English. So even without the link to today’s Islamophobia, it barely scrapes by as a logical choice for a name anyway.

Super Rugby Semi Final – Crusaders v Hurricanes (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

It is, however, a brand – and a very powerful one at that. The Crusaders have won Super Rugby nine times, have produced some of the greatest All Blacks, and have the most desirable talent-nurturing programme in the world. They are the symbol of a city that is still overcoming the last terrible tragedy to beset it. But, like everything else in New Zealand, Friday’s events have changed everything.

They can’t continue to be called the Crusaders, for no other reason than the fact that the man who killed 50 people with an assault rifle believed in perpetuating the conflict they are named after. It is now poison, pure and simple. Whatever gain made by keeping it will be completely overshadowed by the stigma attached to it forever.

There’s no point dragging it out, either. This is a no-brainer, like the way that Native American-named teams in the US should have been renamed years ago. It’s not in any way unprecedented either; teams have changed both their names and home locations in almost every major professional sport.

I’ve spent time working at a Crusaders home game. The people there are friendly and helpful, and it’s obvious that the team’s professional attitude runs deep among their organisation as a whole.

It’s no one at the Crusaders’ fault that they are named that way. Not the players, not the staff. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change, and change now.


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