English Rugby Union Club May Retire ‘Chiefs’ Branding After Fan Consultation

Exeter Chiefs, a rugby union club competing in England’s top division, is poised to change its name and logo after consulting with supporters.

The Premiership Rugby club — based in Exeter, Devon, England — issued a statement on its website on Thursday, Nov. 25, following the club’s annual general meeting the day before, where concerns were brought up that the current name and logo are disrespectful to Indigenous cultures of North America.

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.

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 club statement
Exeter Chiefs’ current logo. (Graphic courtesy Wikipedia)

U.K. news outlet The Guardian reports that, while no formal vote was taken at the meeting, 70% of emails received from fans on the issue supported a change.

Exeter Rugby Club was founded in 1871, but adopted the name “Chiefs” in 1999 when it turned professional. However, the name may have been informally used dating back to the 1930s.

In recent years, the club has faced pressure to change its branding from those who felt it was offensive to Indigenous people of North America — mirroring situations that played out in Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Edmonton.

In July 2020, a group of Exeter supporters started a petition calling for the “racist use of Native American imagery and branding” to be dropped. By the end of that month, they had gathered 3,700 signatures and the support of the local Labour MP.

The club’s board of directors responded saying they felt the club’s name and logo were “highly respectful.” However, at the same time, they retired the club’s “Big Chief” mascot as they felt it “could be regarded as disrespectful.”

Exeter Chiefs’ former “Big Chief” mascot, who was retired in July 2020. (Photo courtesy BBC)

In October 2021, fellow Premiership Rugby club Wasps asked visiting Exeter fans not to wear Indigenous headdresses in their stadium, and even went so far as to ask for a ban on the headdresses across the entire league.

In an interview with The Guardian that same month, Exeter chairman Tony Rowe insisted that “there’s nothing racist” about the club’s branding. “We’re not trying to belittle the image or ancestry of anyone,” he said.

Feature photo courtesy BBC