Exeter Chiefs' native American branding hangs in the balance as club delays final decision

·3-min read
Sandy Park. - PA
Sandy Park. - PA

The future of Exeter Chiefs’ native American branding hangs in the balance, with the club set to decide over the coming weeks whether or not to scrap its controversial imagery.

After an annual general meeting of members, Exeter’s board of directors will now consult with official partners and independent advisors before taking its next steps.

Telegraph Sport understands that heartfelt speeches were made at the AGM on Wednesday evening. The plan had been for the board of directors to discuss members’ views and come to a decision but, some 24 hours later, the club released a statement suggesting that a consensus had not yet been reached.

It has been reported that as much as 70 per cent of the feedback from members was in favour of a rebrand and that the board of directors are keen to assess the costs involved in doing so.

“After consulting and listening in depth to the membership of Exeter Rugby Club at Wednesday’s annual general meeting, the board of directors will now go away and further consult with its stakeholders, partners and professional advisors to decide what the club will do next in terms of the club’s branding,” it read.

“The board will be meeting within the next few weeks to come to a decision. At this time, the club will be making no further comment.”

Exeter Chiefs for Change, an organisation of Exeter supporters that has fronted a campaign to abandon the imagery, cited the intervention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) earlier this month as it reacted with its own statement.

“The news that the Exeter Chiefs board will make a decision on the future of the club’s racially-inappropriate branding in the next few weeks is not so much a step forward as a tip-toe, but it is nevertheless a move in the right direction,” it read.

“However, this issue has dragged on for long enough: we know fans are fed up with hearing about it and the club must be fed up with being asked about it, but neither will be as fed up as Indigenous peoples are, having to continue tirelessly campaigning for the simple right to not have their culture caricatured and misrepresented.

“Exeter Chiefs is so much more than a logo: there was a long history before it and there will be a long future after it. There’s so much to be proud of with this club and we know no one wants it or rugby to go on being tarnished with this controversy, particularly when we know what devastating effects failing to deal with racial equality issues properly can have on an organisation.”

Exeter adopted native American imagery in 1999, but have faced increasingly loud criticism and calls to abandon it over recent seasons. In July 2020, the ‘Big Chief’ mascot was retired and, last month, Wasps became the first Premiership rival to accuse Exeter of cultural appropriation and urged the Rugby Football Union to consider a ban on faux headdresses that have been worn by supporters.

Speaking to Telegraph Sport on Tuesday, Chris Bentley, who represented Exeter as a player between 20004 and 2012 before taking up a job in their commercial department until 2018, urged the club to consider “global sensitivities” and drop the controversial branding.

“It’s not a hill worth dying on,” he added. “After almost 25 years of that brand, we can say ‘right, now it’s time for a re-brand’ as opposed to seeing this a really difficult thing.”

“The opinions of people from Devon don’t really count in this debate,” he adds. “If the people who we’re making effigies of are saying they’re not happy with those effigies, we should take that into account. In a global marketplace, you have to consider global sensitivities.”

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