I’m no fan of rugby union. A sport that actively discriminated against an entire social class without apology, that is lauded as a skilful game while the rules actively discourage the exhibition of skill and that has an ongoing problem with the boorish antics of its supporters and players doesn’t seem worth bothering with. Sadly, it’s hard to escape. Friendly journalists love to write and write about every aspect of union, despite it actually being a very simple game.
But there’s one aspect that’s often overlooked and that’s the inherent racism of the RFU’s adopted anthem. The story goes like this. The RFU finally picked a black player (Chris Oti) – the first black player in around 80 years. He scored, at which point various sections of the crowd started singing a traditional black sing harking back to the days of slavery – indeed, according to this account, believed to be written by a slave couple.
There is a BBC account that has interviews with several of the people who were each solely responsible for starting the song. One has to ask if so many people started the song, why they each only chose to do so in the game where Oti was picked.
It is of course quite possible that the fans were unaware of the song’s origins. But times have changed since 1988 (for the rest of the country it was earlier, but some groups take longer to catch up). Casual racism and misogyny are rightly less tolerated now; we cringe at the television shows of the day and the stereotypes we’ve moved on from. The antics of Gene Hunt and his ilk are banished to a bygone era and the amusement gained is at the belief that such behaviour would be acceptable.
When younger, I simply thought the confederate flag was the decoration on top of an orange car that went round corners sideways. To me at six, the flag was associated with driving away from police officers while keeping a car airborn. Obviously as a grown up, I’m aware of the awful past and what that flag meant.
Swing Low might not be a flag used in pursuit of oppression. But at best the singing of a song about slavery in commemoration of a black player scoring is extremely inappropriate and somewhat Alf Garnett. It is time for the RFU and its fans to move on.