New Zealand Rugby (NZR) could meet with Blues centre Sonny Bill Williams after he covered up a sponsor’s name in his side clash with the Highlanders at the weekend.
The All Black caused a fuss when he covered a bank’s logos on the collar of his jersey with tape in his debut off the replacements bench for the Blues in Dunedin.
Afterwards, it emerged that the 31-year-old, who made his comeback in his side’s 26-20 loss to the Highlanders after recovering from an Achilles tendon injury sustained in 2016, triggered what NZR refers to as a “conscientious objection” clause in his contract to cover up the bank’s logos.
It is believed that Williams, who is a devout Muslim, took a religous stance on the issue of banks charging interest and fees on loans, which runs contrary to his faith. He said he will explain his decision when he gets the opportunity this week.
“Sonny Bill Williams has lodged a conscientious objection with New Zealand Rugby in his contract to finance companies, banks, alcohol companies, tobacco companies and gambling companies,” NZ Rugby revealed via a statement.
NZR chief executive Steve Tew said it was likely to require some form of clarification between Williams and the national union in due course.
“We’ve got an eye to it,” he told Stuff.
“He has exercised a clause in his contract, and all the players are entitled to do that.
“We think it’s an appropriate clause, but the extent to which that is done is obviously something we’ll need to be discussing with [Williams’ manager] Khoder [Nasser] and Sonny Bill in due course.”
Williams’ stance is not unprecedented in international sport. South Africa’s Muslim cricketers Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir, who are Williams’ friends, refuse to wear clothing with the branding of their team, the Proteas’ main sponsor which is a beer company.
The duo wear specially-made uniforms without the beer company’s logo. This, because drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden in their faith.
Tew admitted that players’ individual beliefs had to be protected but added that sponsors’ interests also had to be taken into condsideration in a situation like this.
“They are crucial,” he added.
“We’ve obviously got some very loyal and supportive commercial partners and we’ll make sure they’re kept abreast of what’s going on.”
Williams is expected to explain his side of the situation at a Blues press conference on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the bank in question, BNZ, have sidestepped the issue, saying they did not have a problem with Williams’ stance.
“He’s entitled to have religious beliefs and customs around that, and it’s really between him and the Blues, as to how that manifests itself. So we have no issue with it,” said a spokesperson.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Bill English has also weighed in on the matter saying he couldn’t understand why Williams would take such a stance.
“It is hard to understand that one guy has to behave differently than the rest,” English told New Zealand’s TV3.
“I don’t understand all these professional contracts, but if you’re in the team, you’re in the team.”