CHRISTCHURCH • New Zealand Super Rugby outfit Crusaders are considering changing their name and branding in the wake of the March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch.
Brenton Tarrant, a self-avowed white supremacist, is accused of killing 50 people and the atrocity has since stirred a heated debate about the team's name.
The team's owner, New Zealand Rugby, has also said the current branding, with the imagery of knights on horseback, is "no longer tenable".
Steve Tew, the governing body's chief executive officer, added: "It is apparent that the symbolism, combined with the Crusaders' name, is offensive to some in the community due to its association with the religious crusades between Christian and Muslims."
In response, the Christchurch-based Crusaders, who are the most successful Super Rugby team with nine titles, announced they had commissioned a market research firm to review naming options.
The reigning champions also revealed they would immediately halt their traditional pre-match entertainment of mounted, sword-wielding men dressed as knights in chain mail and tunics adorned with crosses.
Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge admitted that it was a difficult issue for the club as they had been a rallying point for the region in difficult times, including the 2011 earthquake that claimed 185 lives. He said: "Through these events, the Crusaders name has become more reflective of a positive crusade."
The team adopted the name when the competition began in 1996, intending it as a mediaeval-themed nod to the city's English heritage.
The review is set to be completed by the end of the year, with changes to items such as marketing material and playing kits taking effect next season.
The team will retain their Crusaders name for the remainder of the term, without the knights-and-swords trappings.
Similar debates have raged on in the United States over the names of sports teams with Native American associations, such as the National Football League's Washington Redskins and Major League Baseball outfits - the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA