Wellington, New Zealand — New Zealand’s prime minister on Monday criticised All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams’ decision to block out a sponsor’s logo on his shirt apparently for religious reasons.
Williams appeared for the Auckland Blues during Saturday’s loss to the Otago Highlanders with the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) logo taped over on his collar.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) subsequently revealed Williams, a devout Muslim, has a “conscientious objection” clause relating to companies linked to products such as alcohol and tobacco.
In BNZ’s case it apparently related to Islam’s objection to usury — earning high interest from loans — although the player has not yet clarified his stance.
Prime Minister Bill English said he did not see why Williams should receive special treatment when other players were expected to wear the team jersey.
“It’s hard to understand how one guy gets to behave differently than the rest of them,” he told TV3.
“I don’t understand these professional contracts but if you’re in the team, you’re in the team and you wear the team jersey.”
NZR chief executive Steve Tew meanwhile admitted that Williams had put his organisation in a “tricky” position.
He said it allowed players to make a moral stand, but approached such complex issues on a case-by-case basis.
“They’re all tricky because our commercial partners, with a lot of good faith, come in to support the game,” he told Radio Sport.
“They obviously need to get a return on their investment. Part of that is the logo that we didn’t see on Sonny Bill’s jersey on Saturday night.”
Tew acknowledged criticism that sponsors such as BNZ deserved better treatment because their money was paying the players’ wages.
“There is that element, isn’t there? So that’s why we don’t draw a blanket line anywhere,” he said.
“We’ve got to sit down and work it through because different people have a different view of different things… it’s a judgement call.”
Tew said the Blues would discuss the issue this week with Williams and his agent Khoder Nasser.
Williams did not blank out the logo of Super Rugby’s main sponsor, banking and asset management group Investec, which appears on the arm of the Blues’ shirt.
It is also unclear whether his objections extend to US insurance giant AIG, the All Blacks’ shirt sponsor, which has a multi-billion dollar mortgage loan business.