Exeter Chiefs fan group statement amid row over club mascot

An Exeter Chiefs fan group who called for a change of branding have slammed the club’s announcement that it will retire its mascot, describing it as “tone deaf and two fingers up to all minorities”.

The criticism comes after officials at Exeter Chiefs announced they would ‘retire’ the ‘Big Chief’ club mascot following a review of the clubs branding, brought on by a petition calling for the end of the clubs ‘harmful imagery and branding’ in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

A statement released by the club today announced the end of Big Chief – a popular figure for fans at all home games – but defended the use of the term Chiefs and the badge.

However, the fans group Exeter Chiefs for Change has slammed the decision, describing it as intentionally offensive.

In a statement, the group said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that Exeter Chiefs have thrown away this opportunity to show itself as an inclusive club.

“Indigenous peoples have made it clear time and time again that all uses of their imagery in this way are offensive, harmful, and unacceptable. Exeter’s refusal to fully listen to these pleas is tone-deaf and sticks two fingers up not only to them but to all minorities.

Exeter Chiefs mascot, Big Chief which is the centre of the controversy (Image: Phil Mingo/PPAUK)

“We accept that the intention of the club for the branding was originally positive and not derogatory but now they know it is not perceived in that way, they are making a conscious decision to be intentionally offensive by continuing to use it. The club claims that the imagery honours and respects the indigenous cultures, but if they respect them, why won’t they listen to them?

“As fans, we are disappointed and frustrated that this battle continues. As human beings, we are horrified that we still live in a society where a major sports club can treat indigenous peoples like this. It reflects badly on rugby, Devon, and the UK and we should all be thoroughly ashamed.

“This decision will not age well for the club- there is no doubt that the branding will eventually have to change as it is clear that depictions like this are no different from gollies and other relics of the past. By refusing to deal with it properly, the club is now lining themselves up for extensive reputational and commercial damage and bringing shame on all connected with the club in the meantime. It’s baffling that they deem this a price worth paying for selfishly and ignorantly clinging to a poorly-thought logo that’s only been in use for twenty of the clubs 150-years.”

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The criticism after the club announced the decision it had taken in a meeting at their Sandy Park stadium, saying that the use of the chief’s logo was “highly respectful.”

In a statement, the club said: “The Exeter Rugby Club board today underwent a detailed review of the club’s branding following issues raised by the group Exeter Chiefs 4 Change,” said a club statement.

“The process has included looking into lengthy submissions from those who wish to see immediate change and from those who are content that the current branding is not disrespectful to indigenous groups.

“A detailed dossier of all evidence was compiled ahead of today’s meeting and was seen by all members of the board and reviewed.

“Part of the club’s review has seen the club engage with its sponsors and key partners to seek their views – and they have also listened to the response of our supporters, the wider rugby community and certain sections from the Native American community, all of whom have provided us with detailed observations in letters, emails, social content, and videos.

“Content provided to the board indicated that the name Chiefs dated back into the early 1900s and had a long history with people in the Devon area.

“The board took the view that the use of the Chiefs logo was in fact highly respectful. It was noted over the years we have had players and coaches from around the world with a wide range of nationalities and cultures. At no time have any players, coaches or their families said anything but positive comments about the branding or culture that exists at the club.

“The one aspect which the board felt could be regarded as disrespectful was the club’s mascot ‘Big Chief’ and as a mark of respect have decided to retire him.

“The club will be making no further comment on the matter.”

Devon Live