England rugby fans will be allowed to continue singing their national team anthem that has its roots in American slavery.
There will, though, be more education around the origins of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as part of the Rugby Football Union’s commitment to improving diversity and inclusion in the sport.
The song, which has been English rugby’s anthem since the late 1980s, came under renewed focus during the recent growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and the RFU decided to conduct a review of its “historical context.”
“The RFU has stated it will not ban ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ as it has a long-held place in rugby history,” the organization said on Thursday, announcing the results of its research.
“However, the union will use its social media and event audiences to proactively educate fans on the history and provenance of the song as well as providing platforms for diverse voices across the game.”
England will be back playing internationals this month for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, and ahead of the first game — against the Barbarians on Oct. 25 — the RFU will release a short-form documentary on the history of the song. The game is set to be played at an empty Twickenham, with fans not allowed in because of coronavirus.
The song is believed to have been originally composed by a slave in the United States in the 19th century — the credited author is Wallace Willis, a freed slave from Oklahoma — and its lyrics are emblazoned around England’s national stadium, Twickenham.
The RFU said 74% of the 4,400 people it spoke to from the “rugby community” as part of the study acknowledged it was important for England Rugby to “actively educate fans on the origins of ‘Swing Low.’” Some 69% of respondents said the song shouldn’t be banned, the organization said.
When asked about the issue in June, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a rugby fan, said there should not be “any sort of prohibition on singing that song” and he would “love” to hear the lyrics in full.
“Nobody, as far as I understand it, seems to know the words,” Johnson said. “Before we start complaining about ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ I’d like to know what the rest of the words are.”
As part of its diversity and inclusion action plan, the RFU said it was targeting 30% female and 15% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation on its board by August 2022 at the latest.
It will also appoint what it called a “Diversity and Inclusion Council Implementation Group.”
“The RFU needs to step up its efforts to improve diversity and inclusion across our game,” RFU chairman Andy Cosslett said. “We are living through testing times, but this will not deter us from grasping the opportunity to better reflect the society we live in.”
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