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

Rugby: Exclusive - Sonny Bill Williams to be given special Blues jersey

Sonny Bill Williams is on the brink of getting a dispensation to wear a special jersey without the logos of two of the Blues' and New Zealand Rugby's most significant sponsors on it.

The Blues midfielder hit headlines around the world after covering up the BNZ logo on his collar before playing his first match for the team against the Highlanders in Dunedin last Saturday.

It was done due to All Black Williams' religious beliefs and on conscientious objection grounds - he is a practising Muslim - and the issue, which caught the Blues and New Zealand Rugby by surprise, is close to being resolved.

The Herald has learned that Williams will be given a jersey without the BNZ and Investec logos, and probably for the Blues' next match against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday. The dispensation will also apply to the Blues' training kit, with Williams today wearing a borrowed Blues' sweatshirt which covered said sponsors.

One of the main reasons for the delay in the resolution of what has turned into a high-profile controversy, with even Prime Minister Bill English voicing his opinion on it, is the fact that specialist bank Investec, which lends its name to the Super Rugby competition and Rugby Championship, is based in South Africa and the time difference means it has yet to sign off on Williams' dispensation.

Odd man out - Sonny Bill Williams trained with a hoodie on in front of the media today at the Blues' Alexandra Park headquarters. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Odd man out - Sonny Bill Williams trained with a hoodie on in front of the media today at the Blues' Alexandra Park headquarters. Photo / Dean Purcell.

BNZ is said to be relaxed about the issue, and a similar stance by Investec is seen as a virtual fait accompli.

As a jersey sponsor, BNZ are one of the Blues' biggest backers behind principal sponsor nib, an insurance company which features on the front of the jersey. Investec is a NZ Rugby competition and tour sponsor.

AIG, the insurance company on the front of the All Blacks' jersey, will presumably also get the all clear from Williams, who will likely explain his stance in the next couple of days and who has taken issue with banks and investment houses collecting interest on loans, in accordance with his faith.

It is understood that the 31-year-old's jersey will not have the two BNZ logos on the collar, nor will it have the large Investec logo on its left sleeve.

During the match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Williams' first game after a six-month break due to injury and his first match of XVs since the 2015 World Cup final, it was noticeable that he had not only taped over his collar, but also that his left sleeve was rolled to the extent that the Investec brand was obscured.

The Super Rugby logo on his new jersey's right sleeve, which has the word "Investec" within it, will not be altered, the Herald has learned.

New Zealand Rugby has confirmed that all of the country's professional rugby players have a clause in their collective contracts allowing them to opt out of promoting finance companies, banks, alcohol companies, tobacco companies and gambling companies.

SkyCity and Speight's are also major sponsors of the Blues but do not appear on the team's playing kit.

It is a test case for the national union in terms of how far players can take their objections, but there must be valid reasons for them - either religious or moral - and it is not without precedent in terms of global sport.

South African cricketer Hashim Amla, a Muslim and a good friend of Williams, has a dispensation to wear a shirt which doesn't include the logo of an alcohol company.

- NZ Herald

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