Rugby fans should not be banned from singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Boris Johnson has said.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced a review into the use of its anthem because it is “sung by many who have no awareness of its origins or sensitivities”.
The prime minister said he “certainly didn’t think there should be any sort of prohibition” on singing the song and that he would “love” to hear the song in its entirety.
He added: “Frankly I think what people need to do is focus less on the symbols of discrimination... all these issues that people are now raising to do with statues and songs and so on – I can see why they’re very emotive, I understand that.
“But what I want to focus on is the substance of the issue.”
The song is believed to have its roots in American slavery and its credited author is Wallace Willis, a 19th century freed slave from Oklahoma.
The “sweet chariot” is thought to refer to the Underground Railroad, the freedom movement that helped Black people escape from Southern slavery to the North and Canada. In the 1800s, the song was often sung as an expression of the desire to be released from slavery.
Johnson was asked about the song during a visit to a school in Hertfordshire.
He replied: “As for Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, nobody as far as I understand it seems to know the words – whenever I go to a rugby match… before we start complaining about Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, I’d like to know what the rest of the words are.
“You go: ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home’, and then it all dies out. How does it go on? That’s my question.
“I certainly don’t think there should be any sort of prohibition on singing that song. My curiosity is why don’t people seem to know the rest of it – I’d love to hear the rest of it.”
An RFU spokesperson said: “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.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.