The Toronto Wolfpack boasts talent across the park, headed by its two marquee signings, Sonny Bill Williams and Ricky Leutele.
But while that talent may help the team win – as it did in impressive fashion last Sunday against the Castleford Tigers – off the field it’s starting to attract different kinds of headlines.
Barely a week away from Toronto’s opening Betfred Super League match on Feb. 2, Williams has caused something of a stir as he is refusing to wear the team’s jersey which carries the logo of league sponsor, Betfred, because of religious reasons. Betfred is a major British bookmaker and has been the title sponsor of Britain’s premier rugby league competition since 2016.
It’s not the first time Williams has taken this stance. As a member of New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby union team in 2017, Williams said the same thing about the shirt of his club team, the Auckland Blues, which was branded with a Bank of New Zealand logo. It later emerged he had a “conscientious objection” clause in his contract.
“My objection to wearing clothing that markets banks, alcohol and gambling companies is central to my religious beliefs," Williams said at the time.
“While a logo on a jersey might seem like a small thing to some people, it is important to me that I do the right thing with regards to my faith and hope that people respect that.”
Williams converted to Islam from Christianity more than 10 years ago and is a practising Muslim.
Bob Hunter, the Toronto Wolfpack chairman, was made aware of Williams’s position a few days ago and is fully supportive of his star.
“I can’t say how it will work on a practical basis, but [Super League] may want an alternative [jersey]," Hunter said on Wednesday. "Or we can cover it up. But we feel Sonny Bill should be allowed to do this and we support him.”
Williams’s objections might also throw a wrench into the Wolfpack’s plans for later this year. The team is currently in negotiations with Australia’s National Rugby League in the hopes of organizing an exhibition match in Toronto between the Australian national team and the Wolfpack to take place at BMO Field.
However, Williams’s objections toward banks might prove to be a large hurdle to overcome before the match is given the green light to go ahead.