Sport and religion, what do they have in common?

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The public perception seems to be that religion is about going to church on weekends, singing hymns, and studying the Bible, and has nothing to do with sports.

Bro. Brendan Hoban (Diocese of Killala) suggests that they have a lot in common. He writes: “It is no coincidence that sport has appropriated the finery of religion and rituals: the great cathedral of a stadium; the arbiter in his clothes, orchestrating the rituals like a celebrant; the referees, altar servers in white; line judges as additional ministers. The hymns; and all the side rituals of the ‘procession’ of entry to media commentators, sports theologians like John Giles and Eamon Dunphy explaining and analyzing what is beyond the competence of ordinary people ”. (Brendan Hoban, Spirituality: Volume 10, Dominican Publications 2004).

Sport has its gods (superstar athletes, saints, places of worship such as Croke Park, Semple Stadium and Aviva Stadium.) Religion and sport are two major institutions that make up the social landscapes in the lives of many.
Sport and religion have shared a common language since the time of Saint Paul. He referred to the athlete’s vigorous training. The Christian is challenged to follow the example of the athlete and fight for the crown that will last: “Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one wins the prize? Run to get the prize. Everyone who participates in the games follows strict training. They do it to get a crown that won’t last; but we are doing it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man who runs aimlessly; I don’t fight like a man who beats the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after preaching to others, I am not disqualified for the prize ”. (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).

In this text, Saint Paul uses metaphors of games familiar to all his readers, and he contrasts the discipline accepted by athletes competing for an earthly prize with the Christian failure to grasp the demands placed on those who seek the highest of all. the calls. He urges Christians to persevere in order to earn their reward in heaven, comparing it to training athletes to win the prize in the games.

In the Letter to the Hebrews (12, 1,2), the preparation of an athlete for a race is compared to the Christian life: “Thus, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us reject all that hinders sin. which gets tangled so easily, and let us run with perseverance the course which is drawn up for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfectioner of our faith, who, for the joy that stood before him, endured the cross, despising his shame, and seated himself at the right hand of the throne of God ”.

There is a vocabulary similarity between religion and sport. Words like dedication, sacrifice and perseverance immediately spring to mind. If you want to progress in the spiritual life, you must persevere and make a commitment. Bryant and McElroy suggest that religious values ​​are inherent in the ideology of sport: “Sport embodies religious values, including character development, hard work and perseverance, and, like religion, it promotes and instills these qualities. and behaviors. (Bryant, James E. and McElroy, Mary (1997), Sociological dynamics of Sport and Exercise, Englewood, CO: Morton Publishing Company).

Jay Coakley, (Sport in Society: Issues and Controversies: Boston: McGraw Hill College, 7th Edition, 2001) argues that sport and religion have similarities. Both have places and buildings for community gatherings and special events. Sports have stadiums and arenas decorated with photos of soccer players, athletes, and trophies, while most religions have churches and temples decorated with statues of sacred figures or stained glass depicting events and achievements Holy.
Both are controlled by structured organizations and hierarchical systems of authority. Sports have administrators, directors and coaches, while religions have bishops, pastors and priests.

The sport includes the World Cup, All-Ireland Hurling and Football Finals, FAI Cup, Super Bowl Sunday, Heineken Cup and Wimbledon Fortnight, while religion at Christmas, Holy Week, Ramadan and Sunday morning worship.

Sport and religion have rituals before, during and after big events. Sports have national anthems, half-time pep talk, slaps and handshakes after games. Religions have baptisms, opening hymns, sermons, and ceremonial processions.
Both can give a deep personal meaning to people’s lives and many of their activities. They emerge from the same quest for perfection in body, mind and spirit. Sports emphasize body development and performance, while religions emphasize physical denial or discipline for the sake of spiritual cleansing.


Religion, like sport, feeds people’s need to belong, to be part of a group. There seems to be a strong tendency in human psychology to define themselves by their allegiances.

In the Middle Ages, the popularity of long pilgrimages to participate in religious festivals dedicated to certain saints had a carnival side. For Irish people traveling to Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem, there was something like “following the boys in green” all over Europe. Allied to this was the building of a community among the pilgrims along the way.

It could be argued that the common goal of reaching the shrine for the pilgrims was the equivalent of reaching the sports arena for the fans. Attending the pilgrim’s devotional and liturgical ceremonies was equivalent to attending the match for the supporters. Wearing pilgrim badges and collecting mementos and relics corresponds in some ways to collecting sports memorabilia by fans and wearing sports shirts, scarves, hats, etc.

A comparison could also be drawn between saints and sports stars. Saints could well be described as “spiritual stars” for many people. They were admired (like sports stars) by many people. The saints had an aura around them.
The allure of sports stars often transcends their performances on the pitch or in the ring. They too have an aura about them. Muhammad Ali could never be defined simply as a great boxer. Recognition was given to him for something beyond his boxing abilities. It was the size of her personality and all her charisma that touched people all over the world.

Religion and sport occasionally lead to violence. In July 1994, the Columbia footballer (Escobar) was shot dead outside a bar in the suburb of Gibbs Medelin. According to his girlfriend, the killer shouted “goal” for each of the twelve bullets fired. Escobar had scored his own goal in a game against the United States. The United States won the game 2-1 and as a result Columbia was unexpectedly eliminated from the World Cup in the first round. The murder was clearly a punishment for its own purpose.

Sometimes fundamentalist believers engage in acts of violence – all committed in the name of religion! The people who flew the planes into the Twin Towers are just one example of what fanatically religious people can do.

Putnam (Smart Online Journal – 1999) stated that the association of sport and religion “can be found in almost every part of the world of sport, from the boxing rings of Las Vegas and Atlantic City to the huge sports arenas. Southern stock cars, from noisy football stadiums to the lush green fairways of professional golf. (Lee (2004), An Overview of the Reciprocating Relationship between Sport and Religion, Smart Online Journal, Volume 1.)

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