Christchurch - The Crusaders said they were considering a name change on Wednesday, admitting many found the association with the anti-Muslim crusades of the Middle Ages offensive in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders, the most successful team in Super Rugby history with nine titles, said they had commissioned a market research firm to review naming options.
As the head of New Zealand Rugby said the current branding was "no longer tenable", the Crusaders added that they would immediately halt their traditional pre-game entertainment of mounted, sword-wielding crusaders.
"We are committed to undertaking a thorough process, taking into account all relevant opinions and, most importantly, we are committed to doing the right thing," Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said.
The March 15 attack by a white supremacist on two Christchurch mosques claimed 50 lives in the heart of the Crusaders' South Island territory.
New Zealand Rugby, which owns the team, said the atrocity had stirred passionate debate about the name.
"It is apparent that the symbolism the club has used, combined with the Crusaders' name, is offensive to some in the community due to its association with the religious crusades between Christian and Muslims," said NZR chief Steve Tew.
Tew said the review would examine two options, dropping the Crusaders' name entirely or retaining it but revamping the brand.
"Maintaining the status quo in terms of the Crusaders' name with the current imagery of knights on horseback is no longer tenable because of the association with the religious crusades," he said.
Pre-match entertainment at home games usually features sword-brandishing mounted men dressed as crusading knights in chainmail and tunics adorned with crosses.
But the club said such pageantry would be dropped immediately, including for Saturday's game in Christchurch against the Brumbies.
The Crusaders adopted the name when the Super Rugby competition began in 1996, intending it as a medieval-themed nod to Christchurch's strong links to England.
Mansfield said it was a difficult issue for the club as the Crusaders had been a rallying point for the region in difficult times, such as a 2011 earthquake that claimed 185 lives.
"The team has played an important role in helping galvanise the community and raising spirits following significant events," he said.
"Through these events, the Crusaders name has become more reflective of a positive crusade."
He said the review would be completed by year's end, with changes to items such as marketing material and playing kits taking effect next season.
He said the Crusaders will retain the name this season, without the knights-and-swords trappings.
Similar debates have raged in the United States over the names of sports teams with Native American associations, such as the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
Following the comments regarding our name and brand, we have engaged an independent research company to seek feedback and provide recommendations. Until a decision is made, we will remain the Crusaders. For more information and to have your say visit https://t.co/eXys6cvmwD— BNZ Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) April 3, 2019