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.
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Johnson-Williams, Erin G.
"(Special Section) Sonic Congregating: The Hymn as National British Spectacle,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
2, Article 7.