With the London Olympics a pastevent, we might consider this darker side of sport, particularly as the Olympics includes the political realm. The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a story on the political "bad guys" (national leaders) of the Olympics. We can kick-on from here! (www.smh.com.au)
The joy of winning has a dark side
We have all seen the footballer or bowler exalting with an upward thrust phallic fist, not because he has scored a well kicked goal or a well bowled wicket but because he is destroying the opposing team's chance of winning. The joy of winning has a dark edge compared with the joy of having played with skill.
In some sports, we have seen some players who habitually abuse the umpires or physically assault fellow players. An element in the crowd clearly has an evil delight in this. Some administrators seem to believe it helps to sell seats. Most of us today would see this behaviour as a slide back to the days of the Roman circus. We believe that "one plays the ball and not the man", and that our fellow players, the rules of the game, and the judges, are treated with respect.
Christians would see this respect as a corollary of the Commandment to love our neighbour.
A totally perverse joy is that showed by the football fan who goes to the oval, not for the game, but for the "aggro". Opposing supporters, shop fronts and railway carriages bear the mark of that "joy". We have read of this a hundred times over many years. These are examples of black joy.
Human perversity is also seen in the link between sport and war. One of the achievements of civilisation has been to turn personal combat into sport. Hand to hand fighting in the field has been purified into fencing, wrestling and boxing. Many would claim that boxing still retains some of the blood lust of barbarianism in both boxer and spectator.
Others still continue to think that the discipline of team sports has a military value. "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eaton", so the saying went.
Armed services still place high value on team sports and no simply because physical fitness is of value in combat. For a century, target shooting on the rifle range was heavily subsidised by the Defence Department as an element of military training.
It is that dark shade, that perversity, which has made many Christians distrust sport. Our British puritan forefathers came down heavily on the sports of bull and bear baiting, not out of concern of the well fare of the animals, but because they were associated with public disorder, drunkenness and gambling. So too were boxing and horse racing. Dancing went hand in hand with fornication. They tried to outlaw them all.
Another element in Christian aversion to sport was due to an attempt to apply the Jewish Sabbath rules to the Christian Sunday. Some evangelicals feel uncomfortable about participating in sporting events on Sunday for that reason. However, in our society today, we no longer need a day of rest from physical labour, but rather one for physical activity after five or six days at a desk.
Other evangelicals never felt that Sabbatarian influence. They celebrated Sunday as the first day of the week, and as such, a reminder of creation. Sunday was for them a day of recreation, and whatever truly recreated their energies and sense of purpose was seen as legitimate. Naturally there was a need to arrange their time so that both public worship and sport could b accommodated to fully utilise the value of that day.
Some Christians have shared in a tradition of asceticism, arising from both Jewish and pagan sources. Asceticism has its core in denying the desires of the body in order to foster the development of the spirit. There is therefore a belief that anything worldly that gives us pleasure is wrong since it could deflect us from our true goal. Like medicine that is tasty, it cannot be doing us any good!
The New Testament does not give much support to this belief for Christians. While Jesus spent time in the desert working out the nature of His ministry, it is clear He was no hair shirted John the Baptist. He enjoyed weddings and dinners, friendships, and judging from His parables, wandering across the hillsides of Galilee with observant eyes. Christians do not have to be suspicious of pleasant activities just because they are pleasant.
In my theological tradition, we "should be ashamed of nothing but sin". In brief then, enjoyment in a game well played, is a blessing from God.
Many an athlete who is a committed Christian will illustrate their faith in Christ by signalling either the sign of the cross or kneeling after their event. There have been some remarkable displays of this across sport, not only the US track relay teams, but the South African Rugby team having won the World Cup, any number of soccer games and the like.
International soccer has been in uproar over Brazilian soccer players wearing their "Jesus Saves' singlets (when they score a goal they lift their shirts to display the singlet), but not Muslim players wearing trade mark Taliban Islamist beards.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html