Boris Johnson hits out at potential ban on singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and urges people to focus on the ‘issues’

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BORIS Johnson has hit out at the potential ban on singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and urged people to instead focus on the issues.

Fans can usually be heard bellowing out the song from the stands at Twickenham but it’s now being examined after the Rugby Football Union launched a review into racism.

The PM defended the rugby anthem
England’s Mako Vunipola takes on the South African defence during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Final

Ellis Genge gestures as team mate Courtney Lawes looks on during a Six Nations game against France

The review was started after Black Lives Matter supporters called for a review of Britain’s cultural past and its links to the slave trade.

Now the PM has waded into the debate, and warned people to stop focusing on “symbols”.

He said: “Frankly people need to focus less on the symbols of discrimination or whatever, all these issues that people are now raising to do with statues or songs.

“I can see why they are very emotive, I understand that, but what I want to focus on now is the substance of the issue, of course i see that black lives matter and we are going to address all the issues we can in society.

“We will be doing things to make sure people don’t face unfairness in health education and the criminal justice system.

“We should be talking about success, the fact young black kids are now doing much better in some of the toughest subjects in schools, you’ve got more BAME going to the best uni’s than ever before.”

The PM also claimed his only issue with the song was not knowing the lyrics.

He said: “As for Swing Low Sweet Chariot, nobody as far as I understand seems to know the words.

“Whenever I go to a rugby match, before we start complaining about swing low sweet chariot, i’d like to know what the rest of the words are.

“It all dies out, how does it go on, that’s my objection, that’s my question.

“I certainly don’t think there should be any prohibition on singing that song.”

Protests flared up following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while he was in police custody.

The traditional song was written by a black slave in southern America during the 19th century but is said to have been taken up by England fans when two black wingers – Martin Offiah and Chris Oti – became sporting heroes on the pitch at the end of the 1980s.

The RFU said it was determined to “accelerate change and grow awareness” but also noted the importance the song had for supporters as they roused the national side against their opponents on the pitch.

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 Twickenham ground is also covered with lyrics to the song including the line “Carry Them Home” which is also used as a marketing tool.

The song has also been released as an official England World Cup song during tournaments in the past.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is said to have been written by Wallace Willis, a native American who was a slave in the Deep South before the Civil War.

A minister is thought to have transcribed the words and the song became known after the African American group The Jubilee Singers popularised it during tours of the US, the UK and Europe in the early 20th century.

Phil McGowan, of the World Rugby Museum thinks Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, was first used in 1987 while Offiah was playing, whose nickname with fans was Chariots Offiah due to his fast speed.

The reason why fans sung the song had been unclear until footage of the song being sung while Offiah was in action on the pitch emerged earlier this year.

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

The England and Saracens star Maro Itoje, 25, has already raised concerns about the song.

He told Sportsmail earlier this week: ”I don’t think anyone at Twickenham is singing it with malicious intent, but the background of that song is complicated.”

The RFU has appointed Genevieve Glover as head of a diversity group which will look at ways rugby can be more inclusive and end institutional racism.

The Jubilee Singers are said to have popularised the song in the early 20th century

England fans sing the song to help rouse their side to victory