Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: England rugby bosses to review anthem’s ‘historical context’ amid slavery link

Rugby union bosses in England are to carry out a review into the “historical context” of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – an anthem regularly sung by thousands of fans during matches at Twickenham.

The song has its roots in American slavery in the 19th century, which many supporters may be unaware of.

England’s governing body, the Rugby Football Union, has said it wants to educate fans about its origins, as well as undertaking the review.

It comes after global Black Lives Matter protests, including in the UK, about racial inequality in the wake of the police killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Image:
England players pictured before a game in the stadium

The anthem has been sung by fans since the late 1980s, but it dates back to its credited author, Wallace Willis, who was a freed Oklahoma slave.

It became a popular spiritual song in the early 20th century and was popularised again among folk musicians during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

In 1987, it was sung by fans at Twickenham during a Middlesex Sevens tournament when Martin “Chariots” Offiah played.

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The fast winger was given the nickname Chariots Offiah as a play on words with the movie Chariots of Fire, about two runners competing in the 1924 Olympics.

Martin Offiah pictured in 1996
Image:
Martin ‘Chariots’ Offiah pictured in 1996

The RFU has decided many fans are unaware of the anthem’s story and is ready to address the issue.

A spokesperson said: “The RFU has stated we need to do more to achieve diversity and we are determined to accelerate change and grow awareness.

“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 sensitivities.

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

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