Exeter Chiefs resist pressure to drop ‘offensive’ branding

They have decided only to ‘retire’ Big Chief – the club mascot

Exeter Chiefs have resisted pressure to completely revamp their branding, instead conceding only to “retire” the club mascot Big Chief due to controversy about the portrayal of Indigenous Peoples.

A petition set up by campaign group Exeter Chiefs for Change called for the club to drop the “harmful use” of Indigenous Peoples’ imagery, which led to the board of Exeter Chiefs reviewing whether the club branding was offensive. However, in an official statement, the board announced their decision that the Chiefs logo “was in fact highly respectful” after considering both sides of the debate. The only aspect of the club branding which Chiefs agreed could be seen as disrespectful was the club mascot, Big Chief, and “as a mark of respect have decided to retire him”.

In response, Exeter Chiefs for Change described the club’s actions as “tone deaf” and “two fingers up to all minorities” as the concerns they raised about cultural appropriation throughout their campaign have been largely ignored.

In an interview with i, Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw described the board as “in denial” and criticised them for only making a small concession which has not resolved the dispute or satisfied the campaigners. He strongly disagreed on the use of Indigenous Peoples imagery could be seen as a compliment, and his concerns even stretched to Exeter’s reputation as the club’s inaction is “not the image Exeter as a city wants to project to the world”.

Seeking to put an end to the controversy, the board of Exeter Chiefs concluded they “will be making no further comment on the matter.”

Full statement from Exeter Chiefs for Change:

“It’s incredibly disappointing that Exeter Chiefs has 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.

“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 depictions like this are no different from gollies and other relics of the past. By refusing to deal with it properly now the club is lining themselves up for extensive reputational and commercial damage and bringing shame on all connected to 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 out logo that’s only been only used for twenty of the club’s history.”