Sonny Bill is still king – of dou­ble stan­dards!

The Rugby Paper - - Aviva Premiership - NICK CAIN

“Spon­sors like In­vestec and AIG pro­vide much of the fi­nance that en­ables top rugby stars like Wil­liams to earn lu­cra­tive salaries”

SONNY Bill Wil­liams has a habit of cor­ner­ing the head­lines when it comes to An­tipodean rugby – whether Union or League – and this week was no dif­fer­ent as he made the news for cov­er­ing up a bank spon­sor’s logo on his Auck­land Blues shirt be­fore his open­ing match for the Su­per fran­chise.

The charis­matic All Blacks cen­tre has ap­peared to be happy to hop be­tween the codes to max­imise on his earn­ing power dur­ing his ca­reer, and he is cur­rently back as one of New Zealand Rugby Union’s top earn­ers in prepa­ra­tion for the Lions tour.

Wil­liams, who is a de­vout Mus­lim, also has no prob­lems with pro­claim­ing his faith. Af­ter tap­ing over the bank logo it emerged that he had in­voked a “con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion” clause in his NZRU con­tract.

Wil­liams sub­se­quently re­leased a state­ment say­ing that he had “noth­ing per­sonal” against the banks that spon­sor New Zealand rugby, and then of­fered this ex­pla­na­tion for his ac­tions.

“My ob­jec­tion to wear­ing cloth­ing that mar­kets banks, al­co­hol and gam­bling com­pa­nies is cen­tral to my re­li­gious be­liefs, and it is im­por­tant to me to have been granted this ex­emp­tion. 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.”

It was not clear whether Wil­liams had de­cided to forego the per­cent­age of his NZRU con­tract that de­rives from the spon­sor­ship of the bank in ques­tion. How­ever, what was clear is that the strong ad­ver­tise­ment for Wil­liams’ re­li­gious be­liefs cost him noth­ing, and ev­ery­thing ap­peared rosy when his pay­mas­ters at the NZRU/Blues said they re­spected his right to con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion, which they con­sid­ered to be gen­uine.

Nev­er­the­less, there could be a catch in the con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion script which tests Wil­liams’ con­vic­tions to the full.

While Wil­liams was al­lowed to tape over the BNZ logo on the Blues shirt – and from this week­end will wear a be­spoke shirt fea­tur­ing the logo of a chil­dren’s sup­port ser­vice spon­sored by the bank in­stead – the in­ter­na­tional spe­cial­ist in­vest­ment bank, In­vestec, which is a Su­per Rugby spon­sor, was less ac­com­mo­dat­ing.

While it agreed to one of its two lo­gos on the Blues shirt be­ing cov­ered up by Wil­liams, it re­fused to do so for the com­pe­ti­tion logo which is com­pul­sory on the jer­seys of all New Zealand’s Su­per Rugby teams.

Wil­liams could also find him­self heav­ily con­flicted should All Blacks coach Steve Hansen de­cide to pick him – as ex­pected – to play against the Lions this sum­mer. This is be­cause the All Blacks prin­ci­pal spon­sor­ship, which is a five-year deal said to be worth £45 mil­lion to the NZRU, is with the global in­surance gi­ant AIG.

One of Wil­liams’ ob­jec­tions as a prac­tis­ing Mus­lim is to com­pa­nies that charge in­ter­est on loans, which is some­thing that in­surance com­pa­nies like AIG have in com­mon with banks. Wil­liams has not yet made it clear whether this will rule him out of play­ing in the se­ries against the Lions, be­cause he has lit­tle or no chance of get­ting an ex­emp­tion to tape over the large let­ter­ing of the in­surance com­pany on the front of the All Black jersey.

The harsh real­ity of pro­fes­sional sport is that spon­sors like In­vestec and AIG pro­vide much of the fi­nance that en­ables top rugby stars like Wil­liams to earn lu­cra­tive salaries.

Spe­cial ex­emp­tions from car­ry­ing spon­sors’ lo­gos di­min­ish the value of their spon­sor­ship, es­pe­cially when it is Rugby Union’s val­ues as an all-forone, one-for-all team sport that has at­tracted them.

Re­li­gious free­dom and con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion are hu­man rights which must be re­spected – but they also have to be han­dled with care by those mak­ing the ob­jec­tions. It is fine to pro­claim your re­li­gious con­vic­tions, but it is equally im­por­tant to make sure that when you do so you are con­sis­tent in up­hold­ing what you be­lieve.

In Wil­liams’ case he seems happy to protest against fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions up to a point, but to com­pro­mise when it could hit him deep in the purse.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if he plays against the Lions – be­cause if he does, and does so wear­ing the lo­gos of fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, he could be ac­cused of bla­tant dou­ble stan­dards.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Cover up: Sonny Bill with plas­ters over the col­lar lo­gos

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