There is nothing like a spine-tingling rendition of a national anthem before a major sporting occasion. Unfortunately, this Rugby World Cup has seen nothing like a spine-tingling rendition of a national anthem...
Allow me to explain.
In their infinite wisdom, World Rugby decided to have each country’s national anthems sung by a children’s choir and then that pre-recorded version played out in the stadium ahead of every match.
On paper, it’s a nice idea. Get 26 different choirs involved, thousands of children are then a direct part of the Rugby World Cup and earn playground bragging rights over their non-singing mates by being actively involved in a global sporting event being held in their country.
The initial plan was to have the hundreds-strong choirs live at every match performing these renditions. Once the logistical and financial reality of that undertaking became apparent (getting these kids all around France, having them trampling all over the pitch minutes before kick-off, varying quality of stadium sound system etc) that plan was quietly shelved and the pre-recorded version idea took hold.
It’s fair to say, the choirs have certainly done their own take of the national anthems... I’m sure it seemed like a great idea when locked in a recording studio months before the event. You can almost hear an overenthusiastic choirmaster saying “you know what the problem with God Save The King is? It’s not high-pitched enough,” or “for me, the upbeat tempo of La Marseillaise has always been its greatest weakness.”
I’m no musical expert, so perhaps these choral arrangements are indeed beautiful, creative renditions. Maybe at the French equivalent of the Last Night of the Proms or even on France Has Got Talent they would be a hit. But where they don’t work is over a tannoy at a rugby stadium with 60,000+ fans desperate to join in and belt out the familiar anthem they’ve known all their lives.
The choir were performing in person at the World Cup opener— (AP)
There’s a reason why, at every other major sporting occasion, generally one voice performs the national anthems at the cadence and tempo everyone is familiar with. It allows players to tear up as they join in to show their national pride and supporters to roar along with the tune until their lungs burst.
Stray too far from the accepted performance style and you risk not only social media ridicule but a viral legacy of you messing up on the biggest stage. Just ask Ellynora after her display ahead of the England men’s football team taking on Italy earlier this year or Christina Aguilera at the 2011 Super Bowl.
By trying to be too clever, organisers have left the anthems an unholy mess. The England team looked baffled as a high-pitched God Save the King reverberated around Stade Velodrome ahead of their victory over Argentina, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was far too quiet in Bordeaux, leaving the traditionally songbird-esque Welsh fans out of time before the clash with Fiji, while La Marseillaise was the worst of all.
I’ve never experienced an atmosphere quite like France vs New Zealand at the Stade de France in Paris on Friday night. It was incredible and a fitting opening for a home World Cup but a stirring national anthem that should have rocked the foundations of the Eiffel Tower a few miles away was instead a disjointed din.
The choir were there in person on this occasion but having changed the tempo of one of the most iconic anthems of all, the crowd were unable to sing in unison and the moment fell flat. Another stone-cold banger of a tune, Il Canto degli Italiani, suffered a similar fate ahead of Italy’s defeat of Namibia.
The playing of the national anthems should be a spine-tingling experience at a World Cup— (Getty Images)
The word ‘butchered’ keeps coming up when assessing the anthems at the tournament so far, which is never a good sign.
Ex-Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll told the Off The Ball podcast: “The anthems have been terrible! The two big anthems if we are honest are La Marseillaise and the Italian national anthem. Both of them feel like they’ve been butchered! There is no opportunity for everyone to get in behind it.”
Meanwhile, former England fly half Andy Goode wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Can whoever is in charge of all the anthems at the World Cup please stop butchering the life out of them!” and ex-Italy centre Mirco Bergamasco posted: “Can’t we have the anthems being sung normally please? The most important thing is the players. It’s a unique moment!”
To be absolutely clear – I am in no way blaming the children in the choirs for this. It is the tone-deafness, in every sense of the word, of the decision-makers above them that has led to this fiasco.
The oft-divided rugby fandom have been tellingly united on this issue, with almost nobody willing to jump to the defence of the anthems. A packed stadium roaring out a national anthem before a rugby international should give you goosebumps out of excitement, not due to cringe value.
There is mixed messaging as to whether these will be changed ahead of the second round of games, with Sunday Times rugby correspondent Stephen Jones reporting all anthems are to be re-recorded, while Alex Bywater at the Daily Mail says World Rugby have no plans to alter the way they’re being sung.
The proof, ultimately, will be in the singing but this is an easily-solved disaster for World Rugby, who must act and not ruin the rest of the tournament out of stubbornness. Let’s hope they strike the right note.