There's been much talk about the Crusaders changing their name – and now we are hearing phrases like: "appropriate time", "giving everyone space" and "make sure we are respectful".

On one hand, fair enough. It is just a rugby team; no one benefits from knee-jerk reactions and it will clearly be something the team talks to the local Muslim community about – "doing the right thing at the right time", as coach Scott Robertson put it.

On the other hand…nah. There is something that can happen straight away and it should – ditch the people on horseback in mock Crusaders armour, wielding fake swords. Their next home game is on April 6 against the Brumbies and it will be a major surprise if that particular piece of imagery survives.

They can say what they like about how the Crusaders reference aligns to the "crusading nature of Canterbury rugby" but we all know that is rationalisation at best, circumlocution at worst. The blokes on horseback wearing armour and brandishing mock swords undermine that contention.


The world of sport has other examples of teams using the title 'Crusaders' – and many (but not all) have changed. The Middlesex County Cricket Club short-form team were known as the Crusaders until changing to the Panthers in 2009. They are now known simply as Middlesex.

They'd had complaints from both Muslim and Jewish communities at the time (many don't know that massacres of Jews were a feature of the Crusades as well). Even though the club said they were on a "crusade" to get more kids into cricket, they decided to drop the old name.

Crusaders horses provide the pre match entertainment during the match between the Crusaders and the British and Irish Lions. Photo / Getty Images.
Crusaders horses provide the pre match entertainment during the match between the Crusaders and the British and Irish Lions. Photo / Getty Images.

Alvernia University, a Franciscan Catholic college in Pennsylvania, called all their sports teams Crusaders until 2017, when a statement said: "As at other schools with the same nickname, some at Alvernia have viewed 'Crusaders' as expressing commitment to and passion for a cause."

They re-named their teams "Golden Wolves". This, apparently, resonates with them because St Francis once tamed the ferocious Wolf of Gubbio and gold is one of the school's main colours. Their initials (AU) are also the chemical symbol for gold.

Another Pennsylvanian university, Susquehanna, called their teams Crusaders. They maintained it wasn't a reference to the rampaging Christians of centuries ago but changed the names of their teams to the River Hawks in 2015. A year previous, a Wisconsin Christian university did the same thing, saying calling their teams the Crusaders spoke of heroics for some but murder for others: "Times change and we understand that context changes," a spokesman said. "Our world has changed since 9/11 and we've become a more global society with the Internet."

Not everyone dropped the Crusaders link. The College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts decided last year to keep the name but dropped the knight-styled mascot, Iggy the Crusader.

"While we acknowledge the Crusades were among the darkest periods in Church history, we choose to associate ourselves with the modern definition of the word crusader, which is only representative of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and our mission and values as an institution and community," the school board and president wrote in a statement. "We are not simply crusaders, we are Holy Cross Crusaders."

That didn't stop the student newspaper at Holy Cross, The Crusader, announcing it would change its name to The Spire: "No matter how long ago the Crusades took place, this paper does not wish to be associated with the massacres (i.e. burning synagogues with innocent men, women, and children inside) and conquest that took place therein," said an editorial for the student newspaper


Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins have been embroiled in debates for years about the perpetuation of racial stereotypes. The Indians finally agreed to drop their 70-year-old mascot – Chief Wahoo, a corny representation of a Native American worn on hats and sleeves of team tunics – for the 2019 baseball season.

The chief's presence inspired protests on opening day for decades, polarising fans, one of whom was reported to have said of the protestors: "They need a hobby, like stringing beads." Meanwhile the NFL's Redskins soldier on with their name in spite of fervent opposition, large protests every year and even Supreme Court action.

You wonder if the name is really worth it. As with our Crusaders, times have changed, thinking has changed and, on March 15, 2019, New Zealand changed forever.

There are far bigger issues at play, of course – I have to restrain myself from calling for the instant jailing of all those people (I use the term loosely) who rushed out to buy semi-automatic rifles ahead of a likely Government ban. Hopefully, the whole damn lot have their lovely new killing machines confiscated and, if it was up to me, they'd all be doing community service…cleaning loos, armed only with an AR15 with a bent barrel.

Then, when they'd finished that, they would have to attend a university course entitled The Difference Between A Real Human Being and A Congenital Idiot.

These nongs are of far more concern than what we name the Crusaders – but addressing the name of a sports team will help send a clear signal to those among us who need such signposts.