Exeter will retain their Chiefs branding but will “retire” club mascot ‘Big Chief’ following a board review.
An Exeter supporters’ online petition had gathered more than 3,500 signatures, calling for an end to the club’s “harmful imagery and branding”.
Two more petitions have been launched arguing against any change however, with club fans split over whether the Chiefs Native American imagery carries offence.
After a lengthy board meeting on Wednesday, Exeter have opted to retain their Chiefs moniker.
But fans’ pressure group Exeter Chiefs For Change, that launched the original petition, hit out at Exeter’s “tone deaf” response, pledging to keep challenging the Premiership club.
“The board took the view that the use of the Chiefs logo was in fact highly respectful,” read an Exeter statement.
“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.”
American Football’s three-time Super Bowl winners Washington Redskins recently dropped their badge and branding, taking on the temporary new name of Washington Football Team.
Reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs have also been criticised for using Native American imagery and the “tomahawk chop” chant at Arrowhead Stadium.
Baseball’s Cleveland Indians dropped their mascot in 2018, later indicating they could also change their name.
Explaining Exeter’s review process, Chiefs bosses revealed they had sought testimony from all those offering contrasting views on the club’s branding.
Exeter insist the Chiefs nickname has its roots in the Devon area.
“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,” read the 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.”
Exeter Chiefs For Change released a stinging statement in responding to the club.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that Exeter Chiefs has thrown away this opportunity to show itself as an inclusive club,” read the Exeter Chiefs For Change statement.
“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 all minorities.
“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 this. It reflects badly on rugby, Devon and the UK and we should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Exeter Chiefs For Change believe Exeter will still be forced to alter their branding in future anyway.
“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,” read the statement.
“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 used for 20 of the club’s 150 years.”