Hymn singing as an expression of national identity pervades mass sporting events in Britain. From the use of “Abide With Me” at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games (and, annually, at the opening of the Football Association Cup Final and the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final), to recent discussions by the England Rugby Football Union (RFU) around banning “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in the wake of Black Lives Matter, hymns sung in British sporting events strategically frame quasi-religious notions of class, character, and nation. The tradition of singing hymns at national sporting events in Britain has its roots in the nineteenth century. Academic studies of hymn singing, however, have largely focused on more narrow definitions of “congregational” settings, and the ongoing use of many Victorian hymns as a form of nationalist expression in Brexit Britain has not been studied in relation to other hymnic traditions. That the history of spontaneous hymn singing at public sporting events in Britain has its roots in an imperialist nostalgia that often appears to transcend and transplant contemporary contexts of traditional religious worship is an area that is ripe for critical consideration. Drawing on definitions of “the congregation” in congregational music studies, approaches to decolonization in community singing more broadly, contemporary media reports about hymns and the Black Lives Matter movement at British sporting events during and since 2020, and the gradual decline of hymn singing from the British state schooling system, I suggest that the decade of the 2020s provides a critical moment to consider hymn singing at British sporting events as a mode of “nationalist mass congregating,” where the singing of hymns takes on overlapping associations of past and present in the increasingly commercialized secular environments of professional sport.

Author Biography

Erin Johnson-Williams is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Music at Durham University. Her research focuses on decolonisation, the imperial legacies of music education, trauma studies, gender and maternity, and the biopolitics of colonial violence. Erin is co-editor of Intersectional Encounters in the Nineteenth-Century Archive, and the forthcoming volumes Hymns and Constructions of Race: Mobility, Agency, De/Coloniality, and the Oxford Handbook of Music Colonialism. From September 2023, Erin will take up her new role as Lecturer in Music Education and Social Justice at the University of Southampton.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.