June 2006

The World Cup and Sporting Excellence


The World Cup


One of our national obsessions seems to be the performance levels (and metatarsal fragility) of elite sportsmen and women. This is taking on the form of a religion in our culture bringing together issues of community and identity, values (rules and fair play), even ritual and liturgy (‘The response to the psalm is “Eng-ger-land, Eng-ger-land, Eng-ger-land”’) and a remarkable sense of transcendence.  As England compete in the World Cup (at the time of writing without the inspirational Scouse Catholic Wayne Rooney) it is time to celebrate both our national and international unity in sport, but also how good it is for every person to be an active participant. There is a massive focus on the very tip of the   pyramid of sporting achievement. Certainly the politicos and health  professionals bang the drum of ‘Sport for All’, but this seems neither to be expressed on the back pages nor in the growing obesity statistics.


I must restrain myself from providing a Chesterton quote for every occasion yet I find myself still drawn to him:

It was absurd to say that Waterloo was won on Eton cricket-fields. But it might have been fairly said that Waterloo was won on the village green, where clumsy boys played a very clumsy cricket. In a word, it was the average of the nation that was strong, and athletic glories do not indicate much about the average of a nation. Waterloo was not won by good cricket-players. But Waterloo was won by bad cricket-players, by a mass of men who had some minimum of athletic instincts and habits. It is a good sign in a nation, when such things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is a bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on.  'All Things Considered'.

I have heard it said that in the UK the question men ask each other is ‘what team do you support?’ while in Holland the question is ‘what team do you play for?’ Of course this applies more widely: political parties, voluntary groups in Civil Society and, oh yes, Churches, are all finding it difficult to muster active participation. The evangelizing mission of the Church, in particular, is not a matter for an elite. Rather it is the primary business of all Christ’s faithful people. Each one of us is picked to play. The excellence we are all called to sport is the love of God and his wonderful Kingdom.



Pause For Thought

"The search to elaborate a new civil religion, is also being felt in various countries, particularly in Europe and North America. This arises from the need to find common symbols and an ethic founded on democratic consent. The reawakening of values tied to nationality, the search for an ethical consent, through the creation of ad hoc committees, the symbolism of major sporting occasions such as the Olympic games and the Football World Cup now seem to show the need to rediscover transcendent values in the solid-shared basis of human society in a pluralist culture."  

Where is your God?, Pontifical Council on Culture 2006