Devout Muslim Sonny Bill Williams is on the brink of getting a dispensation to wear a special jersey without the logos of two of the Blues’ and New Zealand Rugby’s most significant sponsors on it.
The rugby player hit headlines around the world after covering up the BNZ logo on his collar before playing his first match for the team against the Highlanders in Dunedin last Saturday.
It was done due to Williams’ Islamic beliefs and on conscientious objection grounds – he is a practising Muslim – and the issue, which caught the Blues and New Zealand Rugby by surprise, is close to being resolved. This is what Sonny tweeted:
In regards to my jersey during the game I'll clarify the situation during the week.
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) April 9, 2017
Islam completely forbids the use of usury and interest, called riba in Arabic. It considers it to be one of the major sins, as found in the Quran (2:278-279) where Allah (God Almighty) says:
“O you who have believed, fear Allah and give up what remains [due to you] of interest, if you should be believers.
And if you do not do it, then take a notice of war from Allah and His Messenger but if you repent, you shall have your capital sums. Deal not unjustly (by asking more than your capital sums), and you shall not be dealt with unjustly (by receiving less than your capital sums)”
The New Zealand Herald has learned that Williams will be given a jersey without the BNZ and Investec logos, and probably for the Blues’ next match against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday. The dispensation will also apply to the Blues’ training kit, with Williams today wearing a borrowed Blues’ sweatshirt which covered said sponsors.
One of the main reasons for the delay in the resolution of what has turned into a high-profile controversy, with even Prime Minister Bill English voicing his opinion on it, is the fact that specialist bank Investec, which lends its name to the Super Rugby competition and Rugby Championship, is based in South Africa and the time difference means it has yet to sign off on Williams’ dispensation.
BNZ is said to be relaxed about the issue, and a similar stance by Investec is seen as a virtual fait accomplice. A BNZ spokeswoman said the bank didn’t have an issue with the alterations to the jersey as she spoke with Fairfax Media:
“He’s entitled to have religious beliefs and customs around that and it’s really between him and the Blues as to how that manifests itself. So we have no issue with it.”
In 2008 Williams made international headlines after walking out on his 5-year deal estimated to be $2 million with the Bulldogs to sign a $1.5 million-a-year deal with French rugby giants Toulon.
As a jersey sponsor, BNZ are one of the Blues’ biggest backers behind principal sponsor nib, an insurance company which features on the front of the jersey. Investec is a NZ Rugby competition and tour sponsor.
AIG, the insurance company on the front of the All Blacks’ jersey, will presumably also get the all clear from Williams, who will likely explain his stance in the next couple of days.
He has also taken issue with banks and investment houses collecting interest on loans, in accordance with his faith.
It is understood that the 31-year-old’s jersey will not have the two BNZ logos on the collar, nor will it have the large Investec logo on its left sleeve.
During the match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Williams’ first game after a six-month break due to injury and his first match of XVs since the 2015 World Cup final,
it was noticeable that he had not only taped over his collar, but also that his left sleeve was rolled to the extent that the Investec brand was obscured.
The Super Rugby logo on his new jersey’s right sleeve, which has the word “Investec” within it, will not be altered, the Herald has learned.
New Zealand Rugby has confirmed that all of the country’s professional rugby players have a clause in their collective contracts allowing them to opt out of promoting finance companies, banks, alcohol companies, tobacco companies and gambling companies.
SkyCity and Speight’s are also major sponsors of the Blues but do not appear on the team’s playing kit.
It is a test case for the national union in terms of how far players can take their objections, but there must be valid reasons for them – either religious or moral – and it is not without precedent in terms of global sport.
South African cricketer Hashim Amla, another devout Muslim and a good friend of Williams, has a dispensation to wear a shirt which doesn’t include the logo of an alcohol company.
It’s not the first time a Muslim sports star has refused to play in a sponsored jersey due to Islam beliefs. Australian cricketer Fawad Ahmed was granted his request not to wear the logo of brewing company VB on his jersey in 2013.
In the same year, soccer star Papiss Cisse refused to play for Newcastle United when they unveiled loan company Wonga as their main shirt sponsor.