WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The Canterbury Crusaders are open to discussing a potential name change following mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 people.
The Crusaders adopted their name 23 years ago when rugby went professional but questions have been raised over its associations with the medieval religious wars between Christians and Muslims since the attacks.
The franchise, which has won a record nine Super Rugby titles, issued a statement on Saturday defending the name but chief executive Colin Mansbridge said on Sunday they were open to initiating discussions about a change, in time.
“The first thing for us is things are still fairly raw,” Mansbridge told TVNZ on Sunday. “We’re in a state of shock. We’ll acknowledge the feedback we’ve had. It is appropriate.”
The death toll from the shooting, carried out by a suspected white supremacist and described by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the country’s “darkest day”, rose to 50 on Sunday.
Mansbridge said like other residents of Christchurch they needed time before they looked at initiating the review, which would include discussions with the Muslim community.
“In the context of what’s happened it is pretty hard to sort of elevate this conversation at the moment,” Mansbridge added.
“We’ve heard it, we’ve heard the feedback, and we do want to have a conversation about it.”
The Christchurch-based side’s Super Rugby clash with the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday was cancelled after discussions between the teams and police.
The third cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh that was due to start in Christchurch on Saturday was cancelled after the tourists narrowly avoided being caught up in the shooting.
Other top-class matches, however, went ahead over the weekend as New Zealand’s sporting community battled with the ramifications of the tragedy.
New Zealand’s top professional soccer team, the Wellington Phoenix, said their A-League match with the Western Sydney Wanderers would go ahead on Sunday.
The side added that they would commemorate one of those killed, Kuwait-born Atta Elayyan, the goalkeeper for the New Zealand futsal team, a version of indoor soccer that is played internationally along with the other victims.
Elyaan’s death was announced earlier by New Zealand Football (NZF) after his family had confirmed he was one of the victims.
“My heart goes out to the futsal community,” said NZF chief executive Andrew Pragnell.
“They are a very tight-knit group and this news of Atta’s death will be devastating for all involved in the game. We feel their pain and their grief.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read had earlier urged his fellow New Zealanders to reject bigotry and support the country’s Muslim community after the shooting.
“That this hate filled atrocity has happened in our back yard is beyond words,” Read, who was caught up in the city centre lockdown at his daughters’ school on Friday as police searched for the gunman, wrote on his Instagram account.
“My heart goes out to the victims and their families, our Muslim community and the people of Christchurch.
“Our nation is experiencing a great loss of innocence in the face of all that happened. Bigotry and intolerance has no place here in Aotearoa (New Zealand). This is not who we are.
“Our strength lies in our diversity and while acts such as this are orchestrated in an attempt to divide us, love and unity will always prevail.”
Read’s All Blacks team mate TJ Perenara also urged his compatriots to think about New Zealand’s Muslim community after witnessing the wider impact of the attacks on Saturday.
“I walked through the airport and saw Muslim people going about their day in fear, including one woman that I and a couple of others sat with while she cried,” the scrumhalf wrote on Instagram.
“I thought about how they were in fear as their community has been attacked ... Once we have had time to grieve, it might be time for some uncomfortable conversations.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney/Amlan Chakraborty