NZ fans fume at sponsorship
Richie McCaw (Getty Images)
Wellington - All Blacks' fans have reacted angrily to the New Zealand Rugby Union's (NZRU) controversial decision to sell commercial space on the front of the world champions' jersey.
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The All Blacks' official Facebook page has been flooded with comments from passionate New Zealanders who object to having the name of US insurance giant AIG splashed across the front of the side's shirt.
Unlike most international sports teams, the All Blacks' famous black attire has largely been commercial free, apart from the logo of kit supplier adidas and a short-lived deal with a local brewer in the 1990s.
But, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said the tradition was unsustainable and the AIG deal, which will run until mid 2018, would provide a much need increase in cashflow.
However, his argument did not hold with purists who called the decision a "disgrace" and "disrespectful".
"One of the things that made the All Blacks so special, put them ahead of every other nation and world number one is the pride in the jersey," Nathan Hulme posted on Facebook.
"Now the NZRU have ruined that and what it stands for, sold out our pride and passion. Right at the heart of the all black jersey."
Peter Armitage added: "Steve Tew hang your head, you are a disgrace to the greatest team the world has ever seen."
Nico de Jong acknowledged the NZRU need to attract funds but not at the expense of the black jersey. "It is part of our kiwi heritage, and by placing a company name on the front I think is completely disrespectful, especially considering it is a foreign company," he wrote.
Other critics targeted the choice of sponsor given that AIG required a $182 billion bailout from the US government at the height of the global financial crisis.
"It is so disappointing to see the NZRU choose such an unworthy company to partner with and even worse, give ownership of the black jersey by splashing their tainted brand over where the heart once beat," wrote Kano Wins.
John Copestake said: "You have ruined all the history and class of the black jersey by staining it with AIG on the chest. NZRU you make me sick."
Even players objected to the original proposal, forcing a reduction in the size of the logo and the removal of a white box around it.
"When we saw the size of it and the box we thought it was too big for the jersey," hooker Keven Mealamu revealed.
"So it's nice that they were respectful and able to take the box off and keep it to the size it is now."
But Tew made clear there was no room for any further compromise.
"We respect people who decide that it's not a good idea, but we're the ones in charge of the legacy at the moment and we'll make the decisions we need to make," he said.
He added it cost about NZ$100 million to run rugby in New Zealand and significantly more cash was needed for the sport to survive and grow.
"It's a challenge for us, and we need some money."
The All Blacks will wear the new jersey for the first time when they play Australia in Brisbane on October 20.