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England rugby fans could be BANNED from singing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’

England rugby fans could soon be banned from singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot at matches because of the song’s ties with slavery, it has emerged. 

The iconic anthem which rings round the stands at Twickenham is being reviewed by the Rugby Football Union, which has launched a wide-ranging probe into racism.  

Written by a black slave in the American South during the nineteenth century, the song was first belted out by supporters when two black wingers – Martin Offiah and Chris Oti – became sporting heroes on the pitch at the end of the 1980s.

The RFU today announced its determination to ‘accelerate change and grow awareness’, but acknowledged how much of a battle cry the song is among passionate fans.

A spokesperson said: ‘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.

‘We are reviewing its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions.’  

Martin Offiah (pictured playing Australia in 1995) was on the pitch when Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was first heard sung by fans in 1987

England winger Chris Oti, races away during a match against Romania in 1989. Footage shows fans singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot during his time with the team

England winger Chris Oti, races away during a match against Romania in 1989. Footage shows fans singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot during his time with the team

One of the game's biggest stars Maro Itoje has already expressed doubts about the anthem. In an exclusive interview with Sportsmail this week, he said: 'I don't think anyone at Twickenham is singing it with malicious intent, but the background of that song is complicated'

One of the game’s biggest stars Maro Itoje has already expressed doubts about the anthem. In an exclusive interview with Sportsmail this week, he said: ‘I don’t think anyone at Twickenham is singing it with malicious intent, but the background of that song is complicated’ 

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, has become synonymous with English rugby – Twickenham itself is plastered with lyrics of the song, including the marketing mantra ‘Carry Them Home’.

The song has often been covered and released as an official England World Cup song in the past.  

It is thought to have been written by Wallace Willis, a Native American who before the Civil War was a slave in the Deep South.   

A minister transcribed the words he heard Wallis singing and the African American group, The Jubilee Singers, popularised it as they toured around America, the United Kingdom and Europe in the early 20th century. 

But it only became a mainstay among supporters in the late 1980s when wingers Offiah and Oti became firm fan favourites. 

Offiah was nicknamed Chariots Offiah, a nod to the film Chariots of Fire, in reference to his lightening speed. 

Phil McGowan, of the World Rugby Museum believes Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, was first used in 1987 while Offiah was playing as a nod to this nickname. 

The footage of the song being sung during Offiah’s performances was only unearthed earlier this year.

Before that, conventional wisdom suggested the anthem spawned among England fans a year later in 1988, when Oti crossed the whitewash three times for a hatrick. 

Mr McGowan told the BBC the footage of Offiah ‘solved the mystery of why on earth were they were singing this song’.

The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, USA on a visit to England where they where invited to give a concert before Queen Victoria

The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, USA on a visit to England where they where invited to give a concert before Queen Victoria 

The recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests have put elements of Britain’s chequered history under the microscope – and sparked calls to stamp out glorification of the colonial era’s darker periods.    

One of the game’s biggest stars Maro Itoje has already expressed doubts about the anthem.

In an exclusive interview with Sportsmail this week, he said: ‘I don’t think anyone at Twickenham is singing it with malicious intent, but the background of that song is complicated.’ 

As part of the review into how rugby can put an end to institutional racism and be more inclusive the RFU council has appointed Genevieve Glover as chair of a diversity working group. 

Meanwhile the boss of the French Top14 league has not ruled out clubs in France and England taking legal action if international stakeholders force them to move their competitions to the summer.

Paul Goze was livid with the provisional plan presented to the clubs by unions on Monday.

‘The way the talks during Monday’s meeting were carried out leads us to anticipate a decision which would not take into account what’s at stake for professional clubs,’ he said.

‘We must prepare to take all measures to protect these interests, in France and in England.’

England’s rugby anthem: The history of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

The song is believed to have first been written by a slave called Wallace Willis in Oklahoma, around 1865.  

A minister transcribed the words he heard Willis singing and the African American group The Jubilee Singers popularised it as they toured around America, the United Kingdom and Europe in the early 20th century.

In 1939, during the second World War, the song was branded ‘undesired and harmful’ by the Nazis.

It had a resurgence during the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America – folk singer Joan Baez lays claim to the most notable version from that era, when she performed it at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

But it only became a mainstay among supporters in the late 1980s when wingers Offiah and Oti became firm fan favourites. 

Offiah was nicknamed Chariots Offiah, a nod to the film Chariots of Fire, in reference to his lightening speed. 

Phil McGowan, of the World Rugby Museum believes Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, was first used in 1987 while Offiah was playing as a nod to this nickname. 

The footage of the song being sung during Offiah’s performances was only unearthed earlier this year.

Before that, conventional wisdom suggested the anthem spawned among England fans a year later in 1988, when Oti crossed the whitewash three times for a hatrick. 

Mr McGowan told the BBC the footage of Offiah ‘solved the mystery of why on earth were they were singing this song’.

In 2011, Judy Eason McIntyre, state senator for Oklahoma, proposed that the song became the Oklahoma State official gospel song and it was signed into law in May of that year.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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