Inner City United?

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Inner City United?

The Wespeople?

U of W wants a gender-neutral name for its sports teams.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

U of W wants a gender-neutral name for its sports teams.

The Athletic Axworthies?

The University of Winnipeg has launched a consultation campaign to find a new gender-inclusive name for its Wesmen sports teams.

The university’s varsity sports teams have been the Wesmen since at least the 1920s, Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and adviser to president Lloyd Axworthy, said Thursday.

"We’ve been looking towards a more gender-inclusive term since the ’90s," said Read. "It is a gender-specific term. For some of our university community, this has been a long-standing issue," Read said. "We need to hear back why that is."

The consultation coincides with construction of the $40-million United Health and RecPlex, scheduled to open in 2014.

"We’re just looking for a more inclusive name," Read said.

He said the U of W has had club hockey teams called the Saints and the Platinum Jets, but varsity teams have always been the Wesmen.

The name comes from the Wesleymen, a reference to the original Wesley College, he said.

Read speculated that students and alumni would be divided over the name change. "We want to honour our tradition" with a new name, he said.

The U of W wants to make the change as inexpensively as possible, said Read. Jerseys are replaced every two or three years, but the university puts the Wesmen brand on clothing, camps, brochures and other materials.

The U of W issued a formal statement Thursday: "The process will include consultation with all key stakeholder groups — including athletes, alumni, students, faculty, staff and fans — and will thoughtfully ensure that the Wesmen tradition is appropriately honoured. Any key developments related to these activities will be formally communicated with the U of W community."

The U of W is continuing a trend among Canadian universities in recent years in going to one name that isn’t gender-exclusive. Many dropped the "Lady" prefix for women’s teams years ago and have changed other names, said Michel Belanger, communications director for Canadian Interuniversity Sport. "You definitely have a lot of schools that have changed to harmonize the names," Belanger said.

Unlike in the United States, where there is an ongoing controversy over universities using the names of native tribes for teams, Canadian universities have not gone that route, he said.

McGill has the Redmen (the women are Martlets), but historian Prof. Stanley Frost has traced the team name to a decision to honour James McGill’s Celtic heritage, a reference apparently to the tartan and red hair common to his ancestors.

Read noted the U of W has added varsity teams in soccer, baseball and wrestling recently and it is an appropriate time to look for a new name to coincide with the opening of the new complex on campus.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca