Exeter chiefs are preparing to abandon their Native American branding after calls from a majority of their supporters to make a change. In a statement, Exeter did not confirm future plans but said a decision on “what the club will do next” will be made “in the coming weeks.”
Several members of the club’s board of directors are said to be strongly in favor of the rebranding after complaining that the existing images lack respect to the indigenous peoples of North America. While no formal votes were taken at the club’s midweek annual general meeting, the Guardian understands that 70% of email fan comments supported a rebranding.
Pressure is mounting on the club, European and Premiership champions in 2020, to follow the lead of several US-based professional sports teams that have changed their name or iconography. The nickname ‘Chiefs’, which was officially adopted in 1999 and has been used as an informal nickname for West Country early teams over the past century, is not seen as a problem, but the club have already withdrawn their support. Big Chief mascot. Last month, meanwhile, Wasps asked Exeter fans not to wear a headdress when attending the Premiership game between the clubs in Coventry.
Dante Desiderio, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), also wrote to Exeter President Tony Rowe to clarify that the current imagery and branding “harms natives through offensive stereotypes that ‘it promotes’.
As recently as last month, however, Rowe told The Guardian the club “aren’t trying to downplay anyone’s ancestry image” and said 10,000 people had written to support when the problem arose two years ago. But the mood of the public has since changed and although Rowe insists the controversy has yet to affect the commitment or goodwill of the sponsors, the club admit it may not last indefinitely. The estimated cost for a full rebranding exercise, incorporating a new badge, a play kit and the revival of the Old West-themed bars and decor at Sandy Park, is around £ 700,000.
On the pitch, Exeter is one of eight Premiership teams in action this exceptionally busy Friday night following the post-international resumption of the league schedule. Henry Slade and Stuart Hogg are back from a successful fall stint with England and Scotland respectively as the fourth-placed Chiefs visit Rec to face a winless Bath. The home side are bolstered by the return of England’s Charlie Ewels, Sam Underhill and Will Stuart, Scotsman Josh Bayliss and new Ben Spencer, who is only set to play his second game of the season in the scrum-half.
Bath is nine points behind at the bottom of the table and is dropping an average of 33 points per game, but Chiefs rugby manager Rob Baxter is wary of complacency. “It’s one of those dangerous games where they can throw everything at us,” Baxter said. “For us, this is a very important time of the year. This is when we have to put our foot down and go for it if we are to be involved in big games at the end of the season.
England’s most recent starting hooker, Jamie Blamire, can only bench for the Newcastle Falcons’ home game against the Worcester Warriors, however, with George McGuigan handing over the No.2 starting shirt.
“George had a brilliant two or three years for us and would always be there for coaching player of the season,” said head coach Dave Walder. “We are delighted for Blammy that he had his chance with England and took it with both hands, but on the same note we are also surprised that George was not part of the National team.”
Josh Bassett will debut center for the first time as the Wasps entertain a Gloucester side for which Jonny May and Mark Atkinson return. Northampton, fifth, also welcomes new international players including recent England skipper Courtney Lawes and Welsh opener Dan Biggar on their trip to Ashton Gate to face Bristol. The Bears, 11th in the standings, once again welcome Samoan international Chris Vui as well as Jake Kerr and Henry Purdy to their starting XI as they set out in search of their third consecutive league victory.