12 Apr 2017

SBW bites the hand that feeds

1:59 pm on 12 April 2017

Sports Call - Fair play to Sonny Bill Williams. He's standing up for what he believes.

But he's also biting the hand that feeds.

Williams taped over sponsor BNZ's logo on his Blues jersey seemingly because of his religious opposition to banks and he will now get to wear a 'clean' jersey devoid of two logos, BNZ and international banking group Investec.

Sonny Bill Williams in his Blues jersey with the BNZ logos taped over on the collar.

Sonny Bill Williams in his Blues jersey with the BNZ logos taped over on the collar. Photo: Photosport

The problem is it's sponsors, such as the BNZ, who help pay his wages.

Sponsorship is part and parcel of New Zealand Rugby being able to pay players top dollar to stay in the country rather than losing them to Europe.

That is perhaps lost on SBW. For just how much thought he has given to the whole process is unclear.

He chose to tape over the smaller BNZ logo on the collar of his Blues jersey but ignored the logo of international banking group Investec on the sleeve - as he didn't know Investec was a bank.

If you are going to take a stand - it pays to do your homework.

Under the players collective agreement players have the right to lodge a conscientious objection if they're uncomfortable promoting a particular sponsor.

For example several players won't take part in promotions for fast food company KFC, which is also a leading Super rugby sponsor, because of concerns about the impact of fast food on the health of the nation.

In 2013 ACT Brumbies player Clyde Rathbone took a stand.

The annual McDonald's McHappy Day involved the Brumbies promoting the fast food outlet with players required to tweet about the event during the promotional activity as they worked the drive-through, greeted customers and signed merchandise.

Rathbone found himself conflicted so sent out such tweets as:

Clyde Rathbone got himself into trouble over these tweets in 2013.

Clyde Rathbone got himself into trouble over these tweets in 2013. Photo: Twitter

That brought down the wrath of the Brumbies administration who wanted a please explain.

He replied - "the reason I participated in the day was because I thought I was contractually obligated to. I did not think I was contractually obligated to pretend that promoting junk food to children is conscionable, I don't believe it is....(I) have a moral imperative to live in accordance with my values."

Rathbone ultimately did delete the tweets but admits he later regretted doing so.

Essentially forcing players to tweet under their personal social media accounts is going too far - Rathbone understood taking part in the promotion aided the sponsors but understandably felt used by having to promote it personally.

It's a tricky scenario.

But remember who's paying bills.

If players start opting out why would sponsors want to come on board?

Sponsors sign up knowing they can get some mileage from the likes of high profile players like Sonny Bill Williams being linked with them.

Perhaps jerseys will have to be tailored to each and every player depending on their likes and dislikes - no doubt diminishing the financial return to the New Zealand Rugby and ultimately the players under the revenue sharing agreement in their collective contract.

The South African cricketers Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir, like Williams are Muslim, and have been cited as examples of other sportsmen in a similar situation.

They refuse to wear the logo of an alcohol sponsor - although they have worn the logo of Standard Bank - a bank with high compounding interest on some of its loans.

And what about Williams and the All Blacks? Will he continue wearing the AIG logo on the All Blacks jersey?

New Zealand sevens player Sonny Bill Williams.

What will Sonny Bill Williams stand be on AIG be in 2017. Photo: Photosport

The American Insurance Group is a multinational insurance corporation with major banking interests.

AIG was in fact a central player in the global financial crisis of 2008, bailed out by the US federal government to the tune of $250 billion with the government taking control of the company.

The deeper Williams digs he may find he has trouble being comfortable with several of the sport's leading sponsors.

The AIG deal first signed in 2012 and then renewed last year was initially thought to be worth $80 million for NZR - that no doubt increased last year and so is integral to its income stream.

The BNZ's sponsorship is not in the same league but if Williams is uncomfortable being tainted by the BNZ perhaps he's uncomfortable taking their money?

Perhaps and should take a pay cut by the percentage amount the BNZ contributes?

The ramifications of tapegate will undoubtedly unravel further.