Tony Smith: All Blacks should search consciences and say no to controversial jersey logo

Is Sonny Bill Williams prepared to extend his ban on bank sponsors' logos to the international insurance company's logo ...
MARTIN HUNTER/GETTY IMAGES

Is Sonny Bill Williams prepared to extend his ban on bank sponsors' logos to the international insurance company's logo on All Blacks gear?

OPINION: Wanted: Fifteen All Blacks brave enough to lodge a "conscientious objection" to the three-letter blot on their black jerseys.

If Sonny Bill Williams objects to a bank sponsor's logo on his Blues jumper, how can he, in all conscience, continue to sport AIG on his shirt front?

If an All Black can legitimately raise a squawk about supporting a fried chicken company, surely a moral stand can be made against a firm at the centre of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Sonny Bill Williams taped over the BNZ logos on the collar of his Blues jersey when making his debut for the Super Rugby ...
GETTY IMAGES

Sonny Bill Williams taped over the BNZ logos on the collar of his Blues jersey when making his debut for the Super Rugby team, against the Highlanders last weekend.

By all accounts, Williams has a clause in his contract allowing him to exercise a conscientious objection to finance companies, banks and alcohol, drug and gambling companies.

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The practising Muslim issued a statement on Wednesday, saying his objection was "central to my religious beliefs".

"As I learn more, and develop a deeper understanding of my faith I am no longer comfortable doing things I used to do. So 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."

We will soon see if Williams extends his veto to international insurance giants. Compare the BNZ or Investec banks' track record to AIG, recipients of one of the world's largest taxpayer bailouts.

New Zealand Rugby might have had a convenience case of corporate amnesia when trumpeting a sponsorship deal, reported to be worth $80 million, with AIG in October 2012.

But a lot of New Zealanders hadn't forgotten that AIG was at the centre of the global financial crisis in 2008, leading to a US$182 billion bail out by American taxpayers with the Government taking a 80 per cent shareholding.

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Former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told the New York Times in 2009 that AIG "took risks with unregulated products, like a hedge fund, while using cash from people's insurance policies." 

The company had become the world's biggest provider of subprime mortgage bonds - loans to people who might have found it difficult to get conventional mortgages.

AIG reported a world record fourth-quarter loss of $60 billion in March 2009 - the same month it paid executives bonuses totalling $165 million.

That prompted President Barack Obama to say: "It's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less than $165 million in extra pay".

Within a week of the bailout, AIG spent almost half a million dollars on a staff retreat at a luxury golf and spa resort in California.

The company was downsized with staff numbers halving from 116,000 in 2008 to 56,400 by 2016 - that's a lot of jobs down the drain.

By the end of 2012, AIG had repaid the $182 billion it received from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and more - the US Government reported it had made a $22.5 billion profit on the bailout.

AIG took out a television advertisement during a New Year's Day NFL football broadcast on January 1, 2013, saying: "Thank you, America" with staffers saying the company had "repaid every dollar",  "plus a profit of more than $22.5 billion", "for the American people".

The Government spin doctors hailed the profit, but TARP's former special inspector general Neil Barofsky issued a cautionary note.

Barofsky emailed The Huffington Post saying the government's profit estimate was "misleading" because nearly a third of the AIG stock being sold by the US Treasury had come from the Federal Reserve, not from the bailout programme. 

He also said the US taxpayer stood to lose from from a Government waiver to AIG on billions in future tax payments.

In 2015 - six months before the All Blacks' World Cup win  - a US Federal District Court judge upheld a class action brought by AIG shareholders, who claimed they had been misled about the company's subprime mortgage exposure during the financial crisis.

AIG had to pay out nearly $1 billion.

None of this stopped NZ Rugby announcing another six-year deal with AIG while the All Blacks were in Chicago last November, losing to Ireland.

The company's logo will be on the jerseys of the All Blacks and five other national teams until 2022.

But, the Sonny Bill Williams case has surely created a precedent.

The All Blacks, in all conscience, don't have to support AIG . They should certainly think twice about it. 

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 - Stuff

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