Saturday 13 December 2014

Paul Bickley on Christianity and Sport

‘Have we unintentionally skewered our sports stars between the twin-horned dilemma of marketing and the media? In marketing we airbrush them to embody the brand ideals of our consumer culture but then in the media we peel back the layers to expose the blemishes the advertisers left out. And so the athletes pin-ball back and forth between our praises and our curses, from sporting idol to fallen idol.’

So says Christians in Sport, who recently, with Bible Society, commissioned a piece of research by Theos into the relationship between sport and Christianity, particularly around the ‘role model’ status of sportspeople. Combining theological reflection with empirical research – specifically interviews with elite players and sports chaplains – the report, written by Paul Bickley, has now been published.

Here are a few paragraphs from the Executive Summary:

‘This report addresses the connections between Christianity and sport, particularly in the light of what is perceived to be a growing ethical crisis in the world of sport. What is an authentic Christian response to the growing significance of sport?

‘The report reviews some of the growing body or literature which seeks to explore the connections between religion and sport, specifically that which offers a theological account of sport. It then explores the outline of a theological account in the context of semi-structured one-to-one interviews with Christian professional athletes, chaplains and others working in the field. These theological engagements with sport have identified it as offering a field of human freedom and joy and indeed of offering the possibility of transcendent, “godward”, experience.

‘The corresponding critique is that sport is increasingly subjected to a range of extrinsic concerns – for example, market or public policy demands. Sport’s transcendental and aesthetic possibilities, as well as its sheer popularity, also open it to the possibility of “idolatry” or – in other words – to accord it an ultimate significance. These factors combine to create an environment where athletes are under pressure to act as societal role models, but also to achieve sporting success, sometimes resulting in high profile accounts of poor behaviour on and off the field of play...

‘In conclusion we argue that an authentic theological response to sport is to celebrate it, but also to circumscribe its importance. Practically, sport chaplains do this by focusing not on player performance but on athlete well-being – and indeed the well-being of others in sports clubs. We call for reflection on what other acts might simultaneously celebrate and limit the importance of sport.’

No comments: