Maro Itoje: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot makes me uncomfortable
Ban would be difficult to enforce and Itoje doesn’t believe it should be banned
Maro Itoje says hearing supporters sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot makes him feel uncomfortable. Photo: Visionhaus
Maro Itoje has revealed the England rugby anthem Swing Low, Sweet Chariot makes him feel “uncomfortable” but he does not believe supporters should be banned from singing it at Twickenham.
This month the Guardian revealed the Rugby Football Union was conducting a review of the song – originally an American slave spiritual – conceding that many supporters were unaware of its roots.
A ban on supporters singing the song would be practically impossible to enforce but the RFU is consulting with players and fans and intends to educate Twickenham goers as to its origins. The RFU’s chief executive, Bill Sweeney, has said he no longer sings the song but would not consider supporters who do to be racist. The union is also likely to rethink its marketing and branding campaign that uses the song’s lyrics, which are visible all over Twickenham.
It is believed the song was first sung at Twickenham when Martin “Chariots” Offiah featured at the 1987 Middlesex Sevens tournament. In 1988 it became popular among England supporters when Chris Oti scored a hat-trick against Ireland. The song’s origins are rooted in US slavery, however, and it is believed to have been written by the American slave Wallace Willis around the 1860s.
Itoje told the BBC’s Today programme: “The context in which it was originally sung was with African American individuals to try and give them strength, give them hope. What makes me uncomfortable was its introduction with it being sung for Martin Offiah, it being sung for Chris Oti, who are obviously two black players that played the game at Twickenham. It is a great opportunity to educate people about the context of that song.
“I am not too sure if banning works because you can’t regulate what comes out of people’s mouths but I think people should be educated about the background of the song and it will be down to any individual if they want to sing it or not.” – Guardian