Come on the Canterbury Katipō: on rugby, racism and bad-arse spiders

Photo: ANDREW SIMPSON. From: “Katipō coast: Farmer stoked about resurgence in NZ’s only venomous spider” (The Marlborough Express/

After the March attacks on Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist, it seemed unbelievable the city’s champion rugby team would keep its name, the Crusaders, given it explicitly honours attacks on Muslims by Christian supremacists*. But it did.

Some of the rationale was allegedly protecting the city’s Muslim community from a backlash to a name change. But some seems more about commerce, which should surely be outweighed by an attacked community’s pain.

Before this weird choice to keep being Crusaders, there were some efforts to find alternative names. None of them really grabbed me, but when I read this article today (from the The Marlborough Express) I thought of one that does: How about naming the team after our own, native, red-and-black, bad-arse warrior spider, the katipō? It already wears the team’s traditional colours.

“The Canterbury Katipō” – it even alliterates. I know you’re not supposed to use “Canterbury” in the name to avoid excluding smaller provinces the team also represents, but people do. And if not, “Come on The Katipō” still has a ring to it. In any case this excellently fierce beastie is our only venomous native spider (appropriate for our most destructive Super Rugby team), is native to and lately resurgent in the team’s region (along with other parts of NZ), and the reo Māori meaning of its name seems sufficiently staunch for a footy team: “night stinger”. A perfect summary of what generally happens to visiting teams on cold Saturday nights in Christchurch.

Also, think of the mean mascot and merch The Katipō could have.

And before anyone complains this proposal is somehow insensitive to people bitten by katipō, or whatever, a) check yo’self and b) the last confirmed lethal katipō bite was more than a century ago. Unlike the last lethal white supremacist attack.

*Sure, that might be seen as a bit of a rough nutshell description of how the Crusaders rugby team use the name, but cross-wearing, sword-wielding “knights” on horseback circling the field before games? Come on. And sure, it’s also a blunt description of the long, complex story of the Crusades. But history is always complex, and the fact remains, a central part of what happened was white Christians going to war against non-white Muslims. And another fact that remains is that people ranging from George Bush to the Christchurch gunman have drawn malign “inspiration” from that description.

UPDATE: Canterbury rugby is in the news again today for a lack of thought when it comes to representation, race and respect (“Fake afros to promote Canterbury Rugby game ‘like golliwogs and blackface'” – Further evidence that the Crusader issue is more than “just a name”? And that the Time of The Katipō has come?

Originally posted Sept 27, 2019.

A katipō from a sand dune in Marlborough. Photo: Mark Anderson

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