Having watched 19 matches of the Rugby World Cup so far, it’s time to pay a compliment or two to England and the organisers.
- Nice weather
- Big crowds
The first is not something that is often, or often enough, said in relation to the English. But every match has been played in beautiful conditions. Sunny, dry, firm. Well done. (Of course, I have probably now put the mockers on what weather follows. Sorry.)
The second is something that must have worried the organisers. Would the local crowds turn out to watch matches that do not involve the home team?
The answer has been an emphatic “yes”, and that has contributed massively to the spectacle of the tournament. A game watched on television is enhanced by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd in the background. Compare that to the meagre crowds seen behind many of our Super XV and NPC matches.
My only quibble would be the sporadic ‘singing’ by those crowds of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, the preferred song of England fans, even when England is not appearing. For why?
Why indeed is the song the choice of those fans in the first place?
It is, of course, an easy one to sing, in that it does not require much singing ability at its least. There are not many words to remember. Volume overcomes skill in a stadium or dressing room or bus setting.
But it is discomforting to hear a slave spiritual being appropriated to support a country with such a colonial past. It is the lyrical equivalent of parading the Elgin Marbles in front of Greeks, whether bearing gifts or not.
While it has been sung by many rugby teams for many years, it’s association with the English rugby team at Twickenham is very recent: 1988, when Chris Oti scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland on debut. Recall that Oti is black, and you can choose whether to think it’s use was ironic or insulting or uplifting.
For an idea of how the song is meant as a plea for redemption from suffering, try this version by the late great Paul Robeson.