Faith at the Olympics

“Doctors and scientists said breaking the four minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.” Roger Bannister’s witty comment on his own achievement captures much of the significance, wider context and even celebrity orientation of sport in the modern world.

In July, August and September 2012, the attention of a vast viewing audience will be focussed on individual athletes at the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The Olympic Games have provided an opportunity for witness to the Christian Faith, from the individual witness of people such as Eric Liddell, brilliantly encapsulated in the 1980 film Chariots of Fire, through to informal chaplaincies, and now an official chaplaincy (which also encompasses other faiths).

An interesting development in the last few years has been the deliberate focus on social justice issues, and highlighting the need to be socially responsible at the Games. This has arisen from increasing concern with a variety of social issues that are prevelant today especially in Europe, such as human trafficking and prostitution, the environment, fair trade, and peace. Additional to those are issues such as increased homelessness and equity, which are often created due to the demand for accommodation and resources for the Games themselves.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is involved with More Than Gold, and has also established its own office – Catholic 2012 – to consider how best to engage with the world of sport in the run up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Catholic 2012 sees that sport and spirituality go hand in hand and that ‘God is very much interested in what we do with our bodies’. The purpose of the office is to engage alongside the sporting world at every level, from those involved with the professional world of sport, to those who are passionate amateurs, and equally and as importantly to those who feel that their sporting days are long over, or in fact never began.

Thus, in several ways there will be a significant Christian involvement during the London Games. While there will be a focus on the achievements of the athletes and the spectacles of the ceremonies, churches and para-church groups will be taking the opportunity to encourage people to consider that there is more to life than gold.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 2, Pages 15-16

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