Guy Crouchback: Sport no substitute for faith

28 May 2008

By The Record

This column draws on English sources but the point applies to Australia at least equally well.

It was reported from England recently that a 13-year-old schoolboy hanged himself with his favourite football team scarf after complaining that he was being bullied.
The report continued that on one occasion his “beloved” Liverpool Football Club bag was ripped:
“Finally, the teenager’s mother found him suspended from his metal bunk bed with his Liverpool scarf, facing a poster of his favourite team.”
There are probably a lot of things one could say about this horrible tragedy. One thing that may be worth mentioning is that it reminds us how sport has been elevated into a kind of weird substitute for religion.
Perhaps – I will say probably – had this poor boy had religious faith he would be alive today.
In August, 2002, two 10 year-old girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, were abducted and murdered.
A report relayed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission on August 24 claimed that the fact the girls had been wearing David Beckham T-shirts was “somehow accentuating the country’s grief.”
If they hadn’t been wearing a footballer’s t-shirt, would the “country’s grief” have been less?
Beckham himself was reported as saying the fact that the girls had been wearing his number 7 strip when they disappeared prompted him to dedicate his goal to them: “It was just nice to score a goal tonight – that meant a lot to me. To see the two little girls with my shirt on was pretty nice. …”
The 2002 Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace consisted of a pop concert with simultaneous giant-screen coverage of England’s participation in a football match. A book on the possible origins of King Arthur comments:
“But it is in the Welsh word for Wales that the name has endured most vividly. Cymry am byth! or Wales for ever! is what  the passionate roar from the terraces of Cardiff Arms Park. And a remarkable remnant of Britannia, a small Celtic nation on the edge of Europe that calls itself the Citizens.”
Columnist Lynda Lee-Potter in the UK Mail, on June 25, 2002, showed how sports mania was seen as an admirable substitute for spiritual or other values:
“At 7.30am on Friday, the majority of people in this country were watching England in the World Cup.
“The streets were empty, and even though England lost to Brazil our euphoria lifted all our hearts because this World Cup is about more than football. It’s about our self-respect, our confidence and our pride.
“It’s about our newly-found conviction that we can say we’re proud to be English, proud to hand out flags, and proud of our land without feeling guilty.
“This is a natural, noble, instinct and we must never lose it again.”
It was actually about some men kicking a ball for money.
Cricket never has this weird, pseudo-religious effect. This fact is notable and worth attention.
For all the hyperbole of some cricket writers’ prose, there remains something basically light-hearted about it, at least in the Anglo countries.
Sport can and should be healthy and fun. Its contribution to our culture and lives can be very positive. Children and adults should enjoy it and take part in it. But is not a satisfactory substitute for patriotism, reverence and other civic and ethical values.
And it is most certainly not a substitute for religious faith.