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Maro Itoje says England fans need to be educated on origins of Swing Low Sweet Chariot

Maro Itoje has admitted Swing Low, Sweet Chariot has made him feel ‘uncomfortable’ but has serious doubts over whether the England rugby song should be banned.

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.

Maro Itoje admits that he felt 'uncomfortable' at how Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was introduced

Maro Itoje admits that he felt 'uncomfortable' at how Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was introduced

Maro Itoje admits that he felt ‘uncomfortable’ at how Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was introduced

However, current England international and Saracens star Itoje believes fans need to be educated on the song’s origins and its context.

He told the BBC: ‘The context in which it was originally sung was with African American individuals where they were singing it as a song to try and give them strength, give them hope. 

‘What makes me uncomfortable was its introduction with it being a song for Martin Offiah, with it being sung for Chris Oti, which are obviously two black players who played the game at Twickenham. 

‘It’s a great opportunity to educate people about the context of that song.’

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

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

It has been suggested Martin Offiah (pictured playing against Australia in 1995) was on the pitch when Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was first heard being 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

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

SONG LYRICS 

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

 

I looked over Jordan

And what did I see

Coming for to carry me home

A band of angels coming after me

Coming for to carry me home.

 

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

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Itoje though believes banning the chant outright won’t work and insists educating supporters on the song’s background is the solution to raising awareness.

He added: ‘I’m not too sure if banning works because you can’t really regulate what comes out of people’s mouths but I think people should be educated about the background of the song and it will then be down to any individual if they want to sing it or not.’

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.

The RFU announced earlier this month that fans could be banned from singing the song in the future, as it looks to ‘accelerate change and grow awareness’.

The iconic anthem is often sung by supporters during England games at Twickenham

The iconic anthem is often sung by supporters during England games at Twickenham

The iconic anthem is often sung by supporters during England games at Twickenham

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.’ 

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.

Itoje, one of the game’s biggest stars, previously expressed his doubts about the anthem.

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

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