Exeter Chiefs to ditch Native American branding after consulting fans
- Majority of supporters back rebranding, Guardian understands
- Club recently retired its Big Chief mascot for sensitivity reasons
Exeter Chiefs are preparing to ditch their Native American branding after calls from a majority of their supporters to make a change. In a statement Exeter stopped short of confirming their future plans but said a decision on “what the club will do next” would be forthcoming “within the next few weeks.”
Several members of the club’s board are understood to be strongly in support of rebranding after complaints that the existing imagery is disrespectful to indigenous people in North America. While no formal vote was taken at the club’s annual general meeting in midweek, the Guardian understands that 70% of the feedback from fans via email backed a branding change.
There is mounting pressure on the club, champions of both Europe and the Premiership in 2020, to follow the example of several US-based professional sports teams who have changed their names or iconography. The “Chiefs” moniker, which was officially adopted in 1999 and has been used as an informal nickname for West Country first teams for the past century, is not perceived as a problem but the club has already retired its Big Chief mascot. Last month, meanwhile, Wasps asked Exeter fans not to wear headdresses when attending the Premiership game between the clubs in Coventry.
Dante Desiderio, the chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), has also written to Exeter’s chairman, Tony Rowe, to make clear the current imagery and branding “harms native people through the offensive stereotypes it promotes”.
As recently as last month, however, Rowe told the Guardian that the club were “not trying to belittle the image of ancestry of anyone” and said 10,000 people had written in support when the issue flared up two years ago. But the public mood has since shifted and while Rowe insists the controversy has not yet affected the commitment or goodwill of sponsors there is recognition within the club that this might not last indefinitely. The estimated cost of a full rebranding exercise, incorporating a new badge, playing kit and relaunching the wild west-themed bars and decor at Sandy Park, is in the region of £700,000.
On the field, meanwhile, Exeter are one of eight Premiership sides in action on an unusually busy Friday this evening after the post-international resumption of the league programme. Henry Slade and Stuart Hogg are back from successful autumn stints with England and Scotland respectively as the fourth-placed Chiefs visit the Rec to face a winless Bath. The home side are bolstered by the return of England’s Charlie Ewels, Sam Underhill and Will Stuart, Scotland’s Josh Bayliss and the fit-again Ben Spencer, who is set to feature in only his second game of the season at scrum-half.
Bath are nine points adrift at the bottom of the table and leaking an average of 33 points a game but the Chiefs’ director of rugby, Rob Baxter, is wary of any complacency. “It’s one of those dangerous games where they can chuck everything at us,” said Baxter. “For us this is a really important time of the year. This is when we’ve got to put our foot down and go for it if we want to be involved in big games at the end of the season.”
England’s newest starting hooker Jamie Blamire, however, can only make the bench for Newcastle Falcons’ home game against Worcester Warriors, with George McGuigan handed the starting No 2 jersey.
“George has had a brilliant two or three years for us and would consistently be up there for coaches’ player of the season,” said the head coach, Dave Walder. “We’re delighted for Blammy that he’s had his chance with England and taken it with both hands but on the same note we’re also surprised that George hasn’t been part of the national squad.”
Josh Bassett will start at centre for the first time as Wasps entertain a Gloucester side for whom Jonny May and Mark Atkinson return. Fifth-placed Northampton also welcome back a raft of international players including the recent England skipper Courtney Lawes and the Wales fly-half Dan Biggar for their trip to Ashton Gate to face Bristol. The Bears, 11th in the table, welcome back the Samoan international Chris Vui as well as Jake Kerr and Henry Purdy to their starting lineup as they go in search of their third successive league win.