REGINA - A Saskatchewan junior hockey team is under fire after unveiling a new mascot that critics are calling offensive to Middle Eastern people.
Prince Albert Raiders spokeswoman Amber Pratt said the mascot's costume is based on the Western Hockey League team's original logo introduced in 1982 which depicts an Arabian raider character holding a sword and a hockey stick.
"The version that we brought to life is happy, with a big smile on his face," she wrote in an email on Tuesday.
"He wears hockey pants and a hockey jersey. He is a positive symbol of Raider history and was loved by fans when introduced on Friday night."
Pratt said she is surprised by the criticism and the organization has received way more positive comments than negative.
But Rhonda Rosenberg, executive director of the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, said the mascot plays into possible discrimination.
"The idea of a somewhat violent Muslim man is a stereotype that is really difficult for a lot of people to live with," she said.
Rosenberg added that if a team uses a mascot representing a particular cultural group "at the very least they need to check in with some people who are of that background."
"Really mascots are not where we should be depicting cultural groups of people," she said. "We just need to look at what values and ideas are being put forward, and whether they are really embodying what we want to be sharing."
The mascot is named Boston Raider, because of a sponsorship from Boston Pizza.
Perry Schwartz, spokesman for Boston Pizza International, said the franchisee in Prince Albert has a long-standing relationship with the Raiders.
"Our franchisee didn't see the new mascot or logo prior to it being unveiled on the weekend," Schwartz said in an email. "This was simply part of their sponsorship package as a supporter of junior hockey in the community."
Ellen Staurowsky, a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia specializing in cultural appropriation in sports, said the mascot's image draws upon old, stereotypical notions of racial and ethnic minorities.
"In this time of trying to educate consumers and people working in sport about creating open and inclusive environments, this kind of stereotyping really undermines those efforts," she said.
Staurowsky compared the Prince Albert mascot to a high school mascot in California for a team formerly known as the Coachella Valley High School Arabs.
The team changed its name to the Mighty Arabs in September and altered the mascot's image after months of pressure from anti-discrimination groups.
"In the United States there has been a tremendous amount of controversy around these images across the entire range of sport entities, from high schools all the way through the professional level," Staurowsky said.
"(Teams) need to be aware of all of the constituencies that comprise their fan base as well as the people living in the communities that are affected by these images."
Pratt said the Prince Albert Raiders logo was worn on jerseys from 1982 to 1996 and later returned as a third jersey in the early 2000s. It was also a shoulder crest on the Raiders jersey from 2010 to 2013.
"The Prince Albert Raiders won a Memorial Cup in 1985 and fans identify with the logo worn at the time. It???s synonymous with the success and winning of the franchise," she said in an email.
"The intent of using this character as our mascot was to bring back an icon from the glory days of the Prince Albert Raiders and to bring some nostalgia back to the fans," she said.
"It was never our intention to offend anyone nor do we feel that the character is in any way a negative representation of Middle Eastern people or their culture."