Thursday, 13 April 2017


Sonny Bill Williams has made the news over the last week for this objection to the BNZ logo on his Blue's jersey. My first reaction to hearing his news was, will he return that part of his salary that the BNZ pays? If the BNZ are the modern day version of the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells then along with covering up the BNZ logo should SBW not, for the sake of consistency, also return whatever part of his salary the bank provides? Where does Williams think the money for his salary comes from if not the sponsors? Money made by charging interest.

At the Stuff website Tony Smith writes,
The practising Muslim issued a statement on Wednesday, saying his objection was "central to my religious beliefs". "As I learn more, and develop a deeper understanding of my faith I am no longer comfortable doing things I used to do. So 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."
But is this central to his religion? Yesterday I was reading, for other reasons to do with the Islamic approach to the corporation, Timur Kuran's (Professor of Economics and Political Science, and Gorter Family Professor in Islamic Studies at Duke University) book "The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East" when I came across this comment,
In its strict interpretation, classical Islamic law requires every loan, regardless of size or purpose, to be free of interest. The principal justification is that the ban appears in the Quran. What the Quran explicitly prohibits is riba, an ancient Arabian practice whereby the debt of a borrower doubled if he failed to make restitution on time. Riba commonly resulted in confiscation of the borrower's assets, even in his enslavement. In banning the practice, Islam effectively prohibited immiserization and enslavement for debt (Kuran 2011; 144-5).
Sounds all fairly sensible. But then Kuran writes,
It is not self-evident that a ban on riba requires a general and timeless prohibition of interest (Kuran 2011; 145).
Thus how did we get the ban?

A little later Kuran sends a couple of pages (pp. 147-150) explaining how in practice people evaded the interest ban. Clearly interest free loans would diminish lenders incentive to lend. Thus borrowers often compensated their creditors through payments that amounted to interest, if not actually being interest. Kuran goes on to say,
All such firms of casuistry received religious stamps of approval, although the legality of any given form could very across Islam's schools of law (Kuran 2011: 150).
If Kuran is right and interest in general is not prohibited and the prohibition is honoured in the breach then how did Islamic law get from this to the position SBW is taking?

Also one has to ask if we accept SBW's objection to the BNZ logo where does this end? In his Stuff article Smith wants the All Blacks to lodge an objection to the sponsorship by AIG. And this raises the important point, if we accept SBW's objection, what objections to sponsors can be rejected?

If a player has strong environment beliefs can they object to a sponsor on that firm's environmental record? Does the firm pollute waterways? What if a player is a "social justice warrior" can they lodge an objection on the grounds of the social effects of a given firm's actions, say their use of "sweatshops" in other countries? What if someone is an economic nationalist, can they object to a sponsor on the grounds that that firm closed a New Zealand plant and "moved those jobs overseas"? Which objections are acceptable and which are not? And how is the difference to be determined?

Accepting any "conscientious objection" to a sponsor could be seen as opening a real can of worms for future sponsorship deals. If sponsors think they may not get the exposure they thought they would get do they cutback on the amount of money they offer or even pullout of sponsorship deals altogether. Either way this can't be good for professional sport.

  • Kuran, Timur (2011). The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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