Paul Bickley explores the experiences of Christian professional athletes and chaplains to provide a theological account of sport. (2014)
The State of Play reviews the growing body of literature which seeks to explore the connections between religion and sport. It explores the outline of a theological account of sport, by drawing on semi–structured one–to–one interviews with Christian professional athletes, chaplains and others working in the field. These theological engagements with sport have identified it as offering a field of human freedom and joy, and indeed, the possibility of transcendent, ‘godward’, experience.
Sport is increasingly subjected to a range of extrinsic concerns – especially market and public policy demands. Sport’s transcendental and aesthetic possibilities, as well as its sheer popularity, also open it to the possibility of ‘idolatry’ – of being accorded an ultimate significance. These factors combine to create an environment where athletes are under pressure to act as societal role models, but also to achieve sporting success, sometimes resulting in high profile accounts of poor behaviour on and off the field of play.
We argue that an authentic theological response to sport is to celebrate it, but also to circumscribe its importance. Practically, sport chaplains do this by focusing not on player performance but on athlete well–being – and indeed the well–being of others in sports clubs. We call for reflection on what other acts might simultaneously celebrate and limit the importance of sport.