New Zealand Rugby could call for meeting with Sonny Bill Williams over objections
New Zealand Rugby have indicated a sit-down with star midfielder Sonny Bill Williams could be in order as his private sponsorship stance threatens to spiral into a larger issue.
Williams caused quite a fuss when he covered the two bank logos on the collar of his jersey with tape when making his first appearance of the Super Rugby season for the Blues off the bench in Dunedin on Saturday night.
It emerged in the aftermath that the All Blacks and Blues player, on the comeback trail after an Achilles tendon rupture ruined his 2016 season, had enacted what NZR calls a "conscientious objection" clause in his contract to cover up the bank's logos.
The understanding was that Williams, a Muslim, has taken a religious stand on the issue of banks charging interest and fees on loans, which runs contrary to his faith. He promised to explain all when he got the opportunity this week.
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"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 confirmed via a statement.
It wasn't explained why Williams had covered the logo of the Kiwi bank that sponsors New Zealand teams and not Investec, the international banking and asset management group, which has naming rights for the competition, and an even more prominent spot on the jerseys.
Nor why Williams has previously worn the bank's logo on training jerseys and for publicity shots without covering them up.
It would appear that NZR, which relies on sponsorship income received from companies such as the bank in question to pay the large salaries of its leading players, will look to have a sit-down with Williams and his management over the issue.
NZR boss Steve Tew said it was likely to require some form of clarification between the player and the national union in due course.
"We've got an eye to it," Tew said. "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 African cricketers Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir, who are both Muslim and friends of Williams, refuse to wear clothing featuring the Proteas' main sponsor, Castle Lager.
The pair have been given special dispensation to wear specially-made uniforms without the beer company's logo. They do so because drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden in their faith.
The All Blacks often have Steinlager sponsorship logos on their training gear, and it is not known whether Williams has also red-flagged that.
Tew conceded that while players' individual beliefs had to be protected, sponsors' interests also had to be taken into account in a situation like this.
"They are crucial," he said. "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 when the Blues hold their first media session of the week on Tuesday.
The bank in question, the 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," a spokesperson said.
Earlier on Monday the Prime Minister, Bill English, weighed in on the issue when he said he couldn't work out why the player would take such a stance.
"It is hard to understand that one guy has to behave differently than the rest," English told TV3's The AM Show. "I don't understand all these professional contracts, but if you're in the team, you're in the team."