All Black midfielder Sonny Bill Williams returned to action last weekend following an eight-month absence with an achilles injury. Williams debuted for Tana Umaga's Blues, but his impressive display during the Blues' 26-20 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin was overshadowed by people asking, 'Why does Sonny Bill Williams not have sponsors on his jersey?'
It would later transpire that Williams, a Muslim, had taped over the Bank of New Zealand sponsorship logo for religious reasons - a controversy which dominated headlines in his homeland in the lead-up to this weekend's game with the high-flying Hurricanes.
Speaking on New Zealand's TV3 on Monday, for example, Prime Minister Bill English - albeit hesitantly - pointed out that Williams should not receive special treatment relative to his teammates in such circumstances. Speaking on the AM Show, English said:
It is hard to understand that one guy has to behave differently than the rest. I don't understand all these professional contracts, but if you're in the team, you're in the team.
While a Blues representative stated that the Auckland franchise would be seeking a 'please explain' from SBW, New Zealand Rugby confirmed that the 31-year-old midfielder had "lodged a conscientious objection under the Players' Collective".
Their statement read:
Sonny Bill Williams has conscientious objections to promoting tobacco, alcohol, finance companies and gambling.
With social media awash with questions, Blues captain James Parsons offered his support to "true professional" Williams, while Williams himself announced that he would clarify the situation later in the week.
Why does Sonny Bill Williams not have sponsors on his jersey?
Beginning with this weekend's fixture versus the Hurricanes, Williams will be given a special Blues shirt minus not only the BNZ logo on his collar, but also minus the Investec logo on his sleeves.
Investec sponsor the Super Rugby competition as a whole, and initially were the reason why it took so long for the issue to be resolved - not due to any irritation on their part, but simply down to the fact that they're based in South Africa and a different timezone.
In fact, both Investec and BNZ are reported to be relaxed about the issue, with neither holding any objection to Williams' decision.
The dispensation will also apply to the Blues' training gear. Sonny Bill trained in front of the media on Wednesday wearing a sponsorless hoodie, apparently borrowed. At Eden Park on Saturday, he'll take to the field for the first time in a specially-made jersey, tailored to his religious beliefs.
Williams converted to Islam in 2008 while playing for Toulon in France's Top 14, and became the first Muslim to ever represent the All Blacks. It's understood that his issue with wearing the BNZ logo comes down to the concept of 'usury', i.e. charging interest and fees on loans, which is frowned upon in Muslim practice.
Prior to his religious conversion, the talented inside back had been involved in a number of alcohol-related incidents including a low-range DUI charge and a public urination offence. Williams has, in the past, publicly stated that these incidents and others have made him the man he is today.
He has also in the past worn jerseys containing the BNZ logo - most notably during his spell at the Chiefs, for whom the bank were the main shirt sponsor.