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Maggie Alphonsi admits Swing Low, Sweet Chariot does not 'sit easy' as RFU review England rugby song

Alphonsi: "It wasn't until someone told me about the song and its connections that I stopped singing it"

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Maggie Alphonsi has warned that banning Swing Low, Sweet Chariot from being sung at England games is unlikely to be successful, and that empowering fans to make their own decision will be far more effective

Former England player Maggie Alphonsi does not think Swing Low, Sweet Chariot should be banned but admits the song does not "sit easy" with her - as the RFU conducts a review into its usage.

The Rugby Football Union is looking at the "historical context" of the song - a favourite among England supporters that is routinely heard at Twickenham, with its lyrics written on the stadium's walls.

Its full history goes dates back to author Wallace Willis - a freed slave from 19th-century Oklahoma, USA - and it was popularised again among folk musicians during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Maggie Alphonsi made 74 appearances for England
Image: Alphonsi made 74 appearances for England from 2003 to 2014

Alphonsi told Sky Sports News that, while she no longer sings it, she does not feel it should be banned until people learn its historical context and make a decision themselves.

"I remember singing it a lot when I was young, throughout my England career," she said. "It wasn't until someone told me about the song and its connections that I stopped singing it.

"It's not my place to tell people to stop singing it, because you have to educate people and let them make that decision.

"The song does not sit easy with me when I hear it, because I now know the connections with it. But I also know that people singing it today are not singing it to offend.

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"It's just because a lot of people don't know the history behind it, so it will be interesting to know when people start to learn and if they change their actions.

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Alphonsi believes diversity at the top of sporting bodies is the key to the progress, and the World Cup winner is hoping to become RFU President one day

"I support the RFU for going away and actually conducting a review around it. I think the discussions will lead on to whether or not it should be banned.

"I personally don't think it should be banned. We should educate people and empower them, to understand where it came from."

Alphonsi played 74 times for England at flanker until her retirement in 2014, and she admitted "growing up, I didn't know anything about it. We all sung it and everyone sung it. It is one of the things that you did".

She said: "You know, when you're with your team-mates and when you go out socialising. And then as I became an England player throughout my career, I sang it as well when I went to go watch games.

"It wasn't until I got to a certain age where someone told me about the history behind it. I felt a bit disappointed. I wish someone had told me sooner so I could've made that decision [to sing it or not].

Twickenham, home of the RFU, will play host to the tournament in July.
Image: The RFU have accepted they must do more to achieve diversity in rugby

"But when they told me, I was quite relieved that they told me because it allowed me to think, OK, what was my next step? What do I want to do? And maybe that's probably a role that I should have played to educate more people around me."

Asked what she thought England fans would make of the song's review, she added: "I think there is probably going to be a mixed response.

"You know, there's been so much happening recently with the protests, with the death of George Floyd statues coming down.

"And you can see there's going to be people who will be upset with the fact that it's a song that people feel they've sung forever and they haven't sung it because they are being racist.

"You know, they've just sung it because it's a song that's almost symbolic of rugby. So I think there's going to be mixed reactions."

A spokesperson from the RFU said on Thursday: "We need to do more to achieve diversity and we are determined to accelerate change and grow awareness.

"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 sensitivities. We are reviewing its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions."


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