Prince Harry backs review of rugby chant 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·2-min read
Britain's Prince Harry walks off the pitch to take his seat in the crowd to watch the annual Army Navy armed forces rugby match at Twickenham, west London, on April 29, 2017. Prince Harry attended the Army Navy match at Twickenham as Patron of the Invictus Games Foundation, which is the Official Charity of the day for this years match. The Army Navy Match is the annual rugby union match between the senior XV teams of the Royal Navy and British Army. This year sees the 100th fixture. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Harry at the Army Navy rugby match at Twickenham stadium. (Getty Images)

Prince Harry has offered support to a review into the use of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as a rugby song.

Swing Low has been sung in rugby stadiums for decades, and is associated with England’s team.

But the song has connections with slavery, and was written by freed slave Wallace Wallis. It’s said to be about the conditions the slaves had to face, and the hope of a better future.

There are several claims to its beginning as a rugby song, but in March it emerged that archive footage from 1987 showed it being sung at Twickenham Stadium to Martin Offiah, who had the nickname “Chariots”.

However there are claims it was introduced to rugby fans as far back as 1960.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced a review into the historical context of the song.

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Martin Offiah attending The Audio and Radio Industry Awards held at The London Palladium, London. (Photo by Lia Toby/PA Images via Getty Images)
Martin Offiah is thought to be the player about whom the song was sung when it became more popular. (Getty Images)

A spokesman for the Duke of York told The Sunday Times: “The duke is supportive of the comments that the RFU made this week regarding the review and he will follow the lead of the RFU on the matter.”

Harry is vice-patron of the RFU and an England rugby fan.

RFU chairman Bill Sweeney said: “We need to do more to achieve diversity across all areas of the game, including administration.

“We have undertaken some very good initiatives at grassroots level to encourage more diverse participation, however that in itself is not enough.”

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It’s thought a ban on the song would be difficult to enforce but the RFU could discourage fans from singing it.

Offiah told BBC Radio 5Live: “The song is not really what the issue is here – the issue is about diversity and inclusion.

"I think this is the first step as we progress towards change."

He added: “That history is probably not that well known by a lot of people in the UK. I champion the RFU reviewing it, I wouldn't support the banning of such a song. When you do try to ban things like that it just makes the song more divisive.

"If this review leads to the RFU putting a positive spin on this song, engaging with ethnic communities, looking at the rooms where decisions are made in the RFU and addressing those issues, that's what we actually want."

Harry, 35, and his wife Meghan, 38, are living in Los Angeles where they are preparing to launch their new non-profit organisation Archewell.

It’s thought issues around racism could be on the agenda for the couple, following Meghan’s heartfelt speech about her own experiences, given to the graduating class of her former high school.