Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: SBW's stand on sponsors not the first of its type in NZ

Sonny Bill Williams appears to be a man alone, but others have taken a similar stance on sponsors and issues  in New Zealand. Photo / Photosport
Sonny Bill Williams appears to be a man alone, but others have taken a similar stance on sponsors and issues in New Zealand. Photo / Photosport

Sonny Bill Williams is not the only top rugby player in New Zealand to exercise his right to not promote certain sponsors.

It is understood that others have had issues with fast-food giant KFC and have alerted New Zealand Rugby that they would rather not appear in advertisements. Even those who do have negotiated strict rules with the help of their players' association.

Some have felt that professional athletes backing a fast food company would send the wrong message when obesity, particularly among children, is becoming such an issue in New Zealand. Those that do appear in the television ads are never seen eating the product.

It boils down to individual choice, and while we don't know why Williams taped over the BNZ logos on his Blues jersey in his debut for the team against the Highlanders in Dunedin, many have surmised it is related to his Muslim faith.

Before the match he shared on social media a picture of the lower portion of his jersey, and the fact it was embroidered with the name of his wife Alana and their two daughters Imaan and Aisha.

Afterwards, he sent a message on Twitter which read: "In regards to my jersey during the game I'll clarify the situation during the week."

One of the most famous conscientious objectors of all in New Zealand rugby was former Blues and All Blacks loose forward Michael Jones, a man recognised as a great but who refused to play on Sundays due to his religious beliefs.

Williams has surprised virtually everyone with his stance, but Blues skipper James Parsons, who described him in an interview with RadioLive as a "true professional", said he didn't have an issue with it.

"I didn't really notice it during the game and I didn't notice it afterwards," Parsons said. "I don't know the ins and outs. I think it's a personal decision. I think the Blues are handling it by talking to Sonny and his manager directly."

Asked about objection clause in the players' collective contracts, Parsons said he was well aware of it, citing the KFC example without going into details.

"There have been some in the past when some fast food chains have come on board and supported Super Rugby that some players have opted not to be a part of the advertising campaign, but from a personal point of view, as many sponsors as we can get is for the betterment for the game," he said. "From my point of view I just jump on board and try to get behind them if they're prepared to support me."

When asked about the attitude of Williams, who has played 33 tests and has been involved in two World Cup victories with the All Blacks, Parsons replied: "He's fantastic, he's a true professional. He's had great success not only in rugby but in league and you don't get that by being unprofessional, I can assure you of that.

"I'm right behind him as a teammate. That [Williams' stand] is a personal choice and I'll support him with it."

- NZ Herald

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