English Rugby Club Keeps ‘Chiefs’ Name, Drops Native American Imagery in Favour of Celtic Theme

Two months after announcing the club’s branding would be reviewed, Exeter Chiefs — who compete in England’s top rugby union league — unveiled a new logo Thursday, but have opted to keep their nickname.

The new logo was unveiled on the club’s website and on social media Thursday morning, and will be officially adopted by the club starting in July 2022. It retains the “Exeter Rugby” text and “Chiefs” wordmark from the previous logo, but drops a depiction of an Indigenous American in a headdress in favour of a Celtic warrior.

The Chiefs committed to a review of its branding in November 2021, after concerns were brought up at its annual general meeting that the name and logo were disrespectful to Indigenous cultures of North America. According to The Guardian, 70% of emails received from fans on the issue supported a change.

The club — based in Exeter, Devon, England — says on its website that the new logo is a “poignant and significant nod to the past.”

“[It] draws inspiration from the Celtic Iron Age Dumnonii Tribe, which encompassed a unified area covering Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset for many hundreds of years before the Roman occupation from 43 AD, as well as the later ‘Celtic Kingdom of Dumnonia’, which was established around AD 410 and continued for almost 500 years.”


It adds that “the helmet is based on the Celtic helmets known to be worn in and around 300 BC with a hammered design in the style of La Tène art that was popular in Britain in the last few centuries BC.”

The star above the logo represents the club’s victory in the European Rugby Champions Cup in the 2019-20 season.

Club chairman and chief executive Tony Rowe said that the club is excited to welcome a new era: “Exeter has and always will be the most important term in our overall identity. The term Chiefs, however, is equally entrenched in our make-up, going back to over a century ago when teams in this region would regularly call their first teams that of the Chiefs.

“We are Exeter, we are the Chiefs!

“As a Rugby Club we have been willing to listen, we have consulted far and wide, and now we are ready to invoke change. This is a new direction for our great club, but equally it’s an exciting vision that I’ve no doubt will propel us onwards and upwards over time.

“Our new imagery will bring to life the pride our supporters have to support their club, unifying us all under one brand that underlines all of our core traditions.”

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 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.

Feature photo courtesy ExeterChiefs.co.uk