It is argued that politics should have no part in sport. The same has been said about religion. But are such polarisations possible?
The connection between religion and sport was raised in articles following a golfing win by the deeply religious Stewart Cink [in July 2009]. The story began as Cink battled with fellow- American Tom Watson to win his first Open Championship at Turnberry, Scotland, in 2009. A win for the 59-year-old Watson would have been a wonderful human interest story. The BBC reported the outcome:
Cink won the play-off by six shots to deny 59-year-old Watson the chance of a fairytale sixth Open win. Watson had ended level with Cink on two under after he missed a putt for the title on the 18th.
Writing in the Daily Mirror, Journalist Kevin Mitchell captured some of the media frustration noting:
Spare a thought for Stewart Cink. He is the Open champion nobody wanted … It is hard to recall a winner who more completely spoilt the party in a major sporting event than Cink did when he beat Tom Watson in the play-off. Should we feel sorry for him, this redeemed battler who pick-pocketed the biggest prize in golf from Major Tom?
Mitchell went on to find some ironic justification for the media’s unenthusiastic reaction to Cink’s win.
Anyone who uses his acceptance speech to thank his wife for introducing him to the Almighty so fits the stereotype of boring American God-bothering Republican-supporting lime-green-hat-and-shirt and cream-trouser wearing golfer [that] he deserves all the indifference he gets.
A journalist for the rival newspaper produces a counter-argument, taking the religion and sport theme a little further: Michael Henderson, writing for The Telegraph, rejected the idea thus:
Bernhard Langer thanked the Almighty after he won the Masters for the second time on Easter Sunday in 1993. But he’s from Bavaria, which is really Mississippi by another name, so that’s all right. However, let us go back exactly three years, to the Lord’s Test of July 2006, when Mohammad Yousuf made a lovely century for Pakistan against England. Let us consider what one reporter called the “moving act of faith” with which Yousuf, the Christian-turned-Muslim, celebrated as he knelt towards Mecca.
Henderson then quoted Mitchell’s account of that story:
“…it would be nice to think that the warmth of the reception that ripped around the ground as Yousuf went through his now-familiar ritual of thanks was acknowledgement of his religious convictions as much as his fine batting …the interaction between Yousuf and the crowd encouraged the hope that sport does cut through prejudice occasionally.”
Who’s talking about prejudice? The only thing the Lord’s crowd is interested in is whether a chap can play, and Yousuf can… The only acts of faith that have any relevance in sport are those which have nothing to do with religion. Let’s keep it that way.
Keep Religion out of Sport?
The history of sport shows that moral beliefs and organised sport have inter-mingled for millennia. In the 19th century the philosophy of Muscular Christianity was introduced into the influential public school system in England so that sport, sportsmanship, and religion were utterly conflated as character-building and Empire building.
A feminist perspective suggests that
Given how men have historically dominated sports, it’s only natural that they would become a locus of Muscular Christianity. In the late 19th century, Christian men joined fraternal groups which emphasized exercise. With the growth of professional sports during the 20th century, Christian athletes argued that the body is a temple to God, making athletes quasi-priests. Of particular importance for evangelical Christians has been the use of high school and college sports to promote Christianity
The Spirit of Sportsmanship
The main thrust of Mitchell’s article was the danger of losing the spirit of sportsmanship in Cricket, another game where ethical conduct is highly prized. Keeping religion out of sport is far from a simple matter.