England's Itoje says banning 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' not the answer

·1-min read
Six Nations Championship - England v Ireland

(Reuters) - England lock Maro Itoje says the singing of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' by fans at Twickenham makes him uneasy but the Rugby Football Union (RFU) should try to educate supporters on its origins rather than ban the popular anthem altogether.

The song, believed to have been written by a slave in the United States in the mid-19th century, became a mainstay with England fans in the 1980s, with its lyrics displayed all around the Twickenham Stadium.

The RFU this month launched a review into the singing of the song as protests against racial injustice gathered momentum after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

"The context in which it was originally sung was with African American individuals to try and give them strength, give them hope," Itoje told BBC on Tuesday.

"What makes me uncomfortable was its introduction with it being sung for Martin Offiah, for Chris Oti, who are obviously two Black players that played at Twickenham.

"I am not too sure if banning works. You can't regulate what comes out of people’s mouths but I think people should be educated about the background of the song," the 25-year-old added.

RFU chief Bill Sweeney has vowed not to sing the song anymore but acknowledged it would be difficult to ban it in a stadium filled with 82,000 people.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)