March 19, 2019 / 3:12 AM / a month ago

New Zealand sports minister supports Crusaders name change discussions

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s sports minister has welcomed discussions about a potential name change for Super Rugby’s Canterbury Crusaders in the wake of a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 people last week.

FILE PHOTO: Grant Robertson speaks during a media conference in Wellington, New Zealand, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Barrett

A suspected white supremacist carried out the shooting at the mosques as people gathered for Friday prayers and the outpouring of grief was still resonant on Tuesday as families of victims looked to bury the dead.

The Crusaders, Super Rugby’s most successful team with nine titles, adopted the name 23 years ago when rugby went professional but in the wake of the mosque attacks questions have been raised over its associations with the medieval religious wars between Christians and Muslims.

While the Crusaders initially said the name had no religious connotations and that it reflected the region’s “crusading spirit”, the team’s chief executive Colin Mansbridge said they were open to talking about changing it.

Sports Minister Grant Robertson said on Tuesday such discussions were appropriate.

“I’m aware of the conversations that they’re now having with in particular the Muslim community in Christchurch,” he said. “I think that’s appropriate, clearly this is a big issue in Canterbury.

“The Crusaders is a well established name and brand but I think it is a responsible action to undertake those conversations now.”

Robertson said he would not voice his own opinion until the team had finished their consultations with the local community and he had spoken to officials.

The team’s decision to discuss the issue was also welcomed by the local Christchurch newspaper The Press.

“What was acceptable to the general populace in the mid-1990s may not be now, given New Zealand’s more diverse demographics,” wrote sports journalist Tony Smith on Tuesday. “No one can deny the mosque murders have changed the socio-political landscape forever.

“There needs to be a considered debate - not a knee jerk reaction - and the Muslim community’s view must be paramount.

“Take time to get it right, but the very first step is to respectfully ask our Muslim citizens what they think.

“It’s their team, too.”

The shooting continued to have repercussions in rugby circles with the Otago Highlanders confirming they were likely to take a heavy financial loss from the cancellation of their game against the Crusaders last Saturday.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said they had expected a crowd of 20,000 and were not insured for the cancellation, but it had still been the right decision to make.

“The way Saturday panned out for all of us was something we had never been through before,” Clark told the Otago Daily Times on Tuesday.

“We had worked out there were a lot of people that had to be consulted - a large number of stakeholders, including the young men who had to go out and play the game.

“In the end we came up with what we all agreed with was the right decision.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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