27 years ago, Baptist minister Mark Tronson pioneered the Sports and Leisure Ministry, targeting Rugby League among other sports for chaplaincy. During this time, he appointed 150 chaplains to Australia's professional sports and has had nothing but positive responses from the Rugby League sector.
There were many Christians in the sport and a large number of men open to the message of Jesus Christ.
Cronulla Sharks chaplain George Capsis kick-started a bible study for players in the eighties, paving the way for Christianity in the sport. Recently the World Cup Rugby League organisers appointed a Head Chaplain (Bulldogs chaplain Ken Clendinning) to cater for and look after the 'born-again' Christians in that international tournament.
The Christian athlete ministry began in 1984 when Tony Dunkerley of Victorian Soccer read an article in the November issue of Sports Coach Magazine, highlighting Mark Tronson's involvement in cricket and his appointment as the Head Australian Cricket Chaplain.
"Tony Dunkerley contacted me and passed the article on. That article was read with interest by coaches of all sports across the nation, many of them Christians who in turn passed it on to the athletes in their charge who were Christians," said Tronson.
After a meeting in Melbourne with Tony Dunkerley, Mark Tronson decided to establish a ministry for Christians in all sports.
"Sydney's Rainer Ratinac, a former Australian Squash player who was studying at Morling College (NSW Baptist), became the inaugural Christian athlete minister," said Tronson .
On Easter Sunday, 1987, Rainer Ratinac was interviewed on national television by Dr Gordon Moyes along with champion yachtswoman Jeanine Treharne, whose husband was the tactician on Australia II, the winner of the 1983 America's Cup. Such coverage really gave the movement a push in the right direction.
"Nights of Champions developed where Christian athletes spoke of their faith in Jesus Christ, as did the monthly four page magazine 'Athletes' Chronicle' of testimonies and Country Town Tours where Christian athletes visited rural and regional centres as role models and outreach," Tronson said.
Since the permanent presence of religion in sport, many athletes have jumped on board to spread the word of God and offer spiritual counselling to other sportsmen. Water Polo Olympic vice captain, Richard Pengelly published the Christian athlete creed, "Ten Common Questions for Christian Athletes," a theological and practical approach in conducting oneself as a follower of Jesus Christ.
"Olympic Swimmer Angela Harris and high jumper Nett Knox have both extended their ministries as Olympic chaplains which further illustrates the Lord's blessings from those early developments in the Christian athlete ministry," said Tronson.
Rugby League players can be both 'born-again' Christians and super star sportsmen, for example, look at Ian Barkley in the seventies, and Brad McKay in the eighties, or even Jason Stevens in the nineties and in the current era, Jarryd Hayne, to name but one from each decade.