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19 Jun, 2020 07:31

‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ no more? English rugby fans may be banned from singing iconic ‘anthem’ over slavery links

‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ no more? English rugby fans may be banned from singing iconic ‘anthem’ over slavery links

English rugby’s governing body has been reviewing the national squad’s adopted anthem, penned by a freed slave, amid reports that fans could be banned from chanting the song due to its significance for racial justice issues.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) announced that it has been “reviewing… the Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” song, which has been an anthem of the British national side for over three decades, including at the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

The song has been a permanent fixture on the British rugby scene since at least the late 1980s. Back then, it was adopted by the British fans to cheer for two black wingers, Chris Oti, and, in particular, for Martin Offiah who was nicknamed ‘Chariots’ for his lightning speed after the 1981 British historical drama ‘Chariots of Fire.’

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The lyrics, written in the second half of the 19th century by Wallis Willis, a freed black slave in what is now Choctaw County in Oklahoma, originally had nothing to do with rugby or any sports at all. Moreover, some believe it contains a thinly-veiled reference to a freedom movement aimed at assisting black people to escape slavery. The song gained prominence during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, with its renditions being performed by a number of artists.

The main issue, according to the union, is that fans who belt the song out usually have no idea about its true origins.

“The ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ song has long been part of the culture of rugby and is sung by many who have no awareness of its origins or its sensitivities.”

The RFU has stated we need to do more to achieve diversity and we are determined to accelerate change and grow awareness

The statement comes after the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in the US in late May breathed new life into the Black Lives Matter protests. The protests and unrest have since spilled over the US borders and have put Britain’s colonial past into the spotlight.

The RFU’s statement also comes shortly after England rugby star Maro Itoje told the Daily Mail in an interview earlier this week that he considers the “background” of the song to be “complicated.”

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At the same time, Itoje, who was born in London to Nigerian parents, said that he does not believe that anybody harbors a “malicious intent” when singing it.

The news that the fans might be discouraged or outright banned from singing the anthem have drawn mixed reactions online.

While some, like English former rugby union player Brian Moore, backed the potential ban, arguing that “the world has moved on” and “things that were normal then should not necessarily be normal now,” others saw the RFU’s stance as a surrender to “woke” revisionist culture, that have seized upon the moment.

“Nothing will be left soon. We are living through an absurd Maoist desire to wipe out everything that came before the Great Woke Revolution of 2020,” Martin Daubney, a former Brexit Party MEP, tweeted.

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