There is a danger when commenting on faith based matters that you can either be too dismissive and disrespectful of a persons views, or that you can be too soft.
It is ironic that on the day when Rugby Players Ireland ‘reboot’ puts player opinion and rights to the fore in Ireland that Sonny Bill Williams, half way around the world, is being allowed tape over sponsors logos on his Aukland Blues kit.
In a statement released yesterday to clarify why this happened at the weekend for the first time, the All Black and one of the highest paid players in World Rugby said “while a logo on a jersey might seem like a small thing to some people, it is important to me that I do the right thing with regards to my faith and hope that people respect that.”
“I want to thank the Blues and New Zealand Rugby for working with me through this matter over the last couple of days, and respecting my religion and accommodating my request.”
Williams converted to Islam in 2008, while playing in Europe. He has not previously voiced an objection to sponsors logos though does have an exemption in his contract excusing him from promotional commitments with any banking, gambling or tobacco companies.
Last weekend he taped over the logo of BNZ on the collar of his shirt, as can be seen above. The issue is with the islamic objection to usury and the charging of interest but that is such an interwoven element of so many sectors now, and any that provide finance options that it presents a much larger issue that one mans faith.
Reportedly this weekend he will have a specific shirt made without the BNZ logo and that of Investec, who sponsor the league. Both sponsors are reported to be comfortable with the decision and without doubt their respective involvement is now known by many millions more than would have been the case before the weekend.
It is reported though that there is no issue with AIG as sponsors of the All Blacks, yet they too are a major financial institution with banking interests. NIB, the main sponsor of Aukland Blues is a health insurance company and there is no suggestion he will refuse to play in stadia that are sponsored by banks.
Legal teams in major sponsors and sporting bodies will doubtless have spect the past 48 hours looking for precedent and being asked what this means for future player rights and contract negotiations.
The exceptions, and the publicity they bring, are fine. The problem ramps up when you go down the ‘what if’ route as part of negotiation and Williams has just created a major, and potentially very opaque exception, that people are generally nervous about calling out.