English club ask Rugby Union to consider ban on rival fans' Native American headdresses

Credit: Original article can be found here

Exeter Chiefs supporters in the stands at the 2021 English Premiership rugby final.

Bob Bradford – CameraSport/Getty Images

Exeter Chiefs supporters in the stands at the 2021 English Premiership rugby final.

Premiership club Wasps have asked England’s rugby authorities to review the wearing of “faux Native American headdresses’’ by Exeter Chiefs fans.

The headdresses have been worn since Exeter rebranded as the Chiefs in 1999, but Wasps believe they have “the potential to cause offence”.

In a statement on its website, Wasps said it had been by asked by a supporter group to review the wearing of headdresses “and other cultural signifiers’’ at its Ricoh Stadium home ground in Coventry.

As a result, the club consulted “external stakeholders and members of the Native American community”.

BT SPORT/EXETER CHIEFS

Exeter Chiefs’ English Premiership rugby title win.

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“Having taken counsel on this issue, it is clear that to drive real change we need a sport wide position to be reached. We have, therefore, approached Premiership Rugby, the RFU and the RFU’s newly formed Diversity and Inclusion working group to ask that this issue is formally addressed.”

Wasps are due to host Exeter on Sunday (Monday NZ time).

Club officials said they would not be issuing “an arena wide ban on the wearing of faux Native American attire, as one club acting in isolation has the potential to cause further division and uncertainty’’.

“However, we do not support the wearing of such items, discourage supporters from wearing them and will be revisiting this decision in due course.”

Exeter declined to comment on Wasps’ move when approached by English newspapers.

Wasps said it had “made a commitment to put equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of what we do”.

“Recent events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the continued racist abuse aimed at high profile sports stars and rising intolerance towards LGBTQ+ people have made it clear that diversity and inclusion are not just political issues, they are human ones.

“We know that engaging in dialogue and being prepared to voice an opinion will sometimes be uncomfortable, difficult and may not always be popular. Having the conversation though and being willing to listen, question, reflect and learn, is how we move forward and hold ourselves to account.”

The Wasps statement said “many topics and behaviours which were once tolerated, such as cultural appropriation, are no longer acceptable’’.

“Just because something isn’t offensive to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t offensive. Even though we do not want to create a professionally offended society, we do need to recognise that times and opinions change.

“Since 2020, several sports teams around the world have recognised that the appropriation of another culture is something they can no longer justify. Last year there was a public focus on the prominent use of appropriated names and iconography by professional franchises including the Washington Football Team (formerly known as the ‘Redskins’ until July 2020) and in Canada, the Edmonton Eskimos have become the Edmonton Elks.”

Respect for all cultures had to be upheld, Wasps said. The club believed “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture” was not right.

“Therefore, the wearing of faux Native American headdresses has the potential to cause offence and doesn’t align with our values.”

Wasps have a number of New Zealand players on their books, including ex-All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, Vaea Fifita and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen and former Hurricanes stars Brad Shields and Jimmy Gopperth.

Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell is their assistant coach.