After Mosque Attack, Leading New Zealand Rugby Team Considers Dropping ‘Crusaders’ Name

By Patrick Goodenough | March 18, 2019 | 4:24am EDT
Crusaders’ pre-game rituals involve sword-wielding horsemen. (Screen capture: YouTube)

( – Friday’s deadly attack on two mosques in New Zealand has given impetus to a campaign to persuade one of the rugby-mad country’s most beloved sporting franchises – the Crusaders rugby union team – to change its name.

“We understand the concerns that have been raised,” the CEO of the Christchurch-based team, Colin Mansbridge, said in a statement, alluding to the historical associations of the team’s name.

“For us, the Crusaders name is a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community. What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch on Friday; our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit,” he said.

Mansbridge said the time for a conversation around the name “was not right now,” as the team’s immediate focus was to support those impacted by the attack, which killed 50 Muslims.

“At an appropriate time, we will thoroughly consider the issues that have been raised and our response to that. That will include conversations with a range of people, including our Muslim community.”

The Crusaders are one of New Zealand – and the world’s – most successful rugby union franchises, and has produced many players for the national team, the All Blacks.

It adopted its name in 1996, when the league in which it plays was launched. The name was chosen, according to team historians, because of the “English nature” of Christchurch, which is often described as one the most English cities anywhere outside of England.

It was also intended to reflect the “crusading spirit” of rugby in that part of New Zealand.

The name quickly captured the fans, with pre-game rituals including sword-wielding “horsemen” in Crusader garb who enter the field from a “castle” and charge around the stadium to the accompaniment of Vangelis’ stirring “Conquest of Paradise.”

The team’s logo also boasts a knight and sword.

Talk of a possible name change has sparked much debate online in recent days. A sampling of comments follows:

--“If we are going to change our name it’s going to be by our choice. Not because of a man who has done this evil act. Secondly people underestimate how much this team means to the city of Christchurch. Let’s all take a few days to process this before forming knee jerk opinions.”

--“If it was changed then it would not be done because of the killer, it would be done because of the victims.”

--“The attacker had nothing to do with it Christchurch, the Crusaders or Christianity.”

--“While they’re at it may as well start a petition to rename the city too. Also maybe rename Cathedral Square to Nondenominational Central Area.”

--“The issue is more the name and the concept being co-opted by fascists, rather than it being offensive per se.”

--“It’s just a name for a sports team, get over it. Changing it doesn’t do anything, it is purely tokenism ...”

A commonly used term

The term “Crusaders” has been adopted by numerous sports clubs around the world, including a soccer team in Northern Ireland and a rugby league club in Wales.

In the United States, the name is used by sports teams at the University of Dallas, a Catholic school in Irving, Texas, and Central Catholic Schools in Steubenville, Ohio (“Home of the Fighting Crusaders!), among others.

The Christchurch-based Crusaders are one of New Zealand’s most successful and beloved rugby union frachises. (Photo: Crusaders)

In 2009, a cricket team in England changed its name from the Middlesex Crusaders to the Panthers, after complaints.

Last year, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. decided to keep the Crusaders name for its athletics team, but to change a knight logo and mascot.

“While we acknowledge that the Crusades were among the darkest periods in Church history, we choose to associate ourselves with the modern definition of the word crusader, one which is representative of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and our mission and values as an institution and community,” the board of trustees said at the time. “We are not simply crusaders, we are Holy Cross Crusaders.”

Among other things, the Crusader was also the name of a British tank used in the North African campaign in World War II; a major military operation in North Africa during that war, in 1941; three Royal Navy ships (HMS Crusader) commissioned during the 20th century; and a U.S. Navy jet (the Vought F-8 Crusader) used mainly during the Vietnam War.

The Crusades were a series of religious and political wars from the 11th to the 13th centuries, with European soldiers and volunteers marching to the Holy Land with the aim of capturing Jerusalem for Christendom. Among the most controversial features of the First Crusade recorded by historians were the massacre of Jews in Rhineland in 1096, and the mass killing of Muslims and Jews when Jerusalem was conquered in 1099.

Days after the 9/11 terror attacks, President George W. Bush raised eyebrows when he said in a speech, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.”

Over the years since, radical Islamists have frequently used the term “crusade” to describe the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic terrorism.

Osama bin Laden’s video and audio messages frequently referred to the Western “crusade against Islam” or “crusader forces,” and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also used the term.

An edition of the ISIS propaganda publication Dabiq in 2014 was entitled “The failed crusade,” and featured an article urging Muslims in the West to carry out attacks against “the citizens of crusader nations … wherever they can be found.”

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