Saving Sport

SAVING SPORT

Fr Kevin O’Gorman SMA

Sport has a huge following in society. Events on and off the field generate intense emotional excitement for fans. Leaving work and the worries of life aside, they identify with the fortunes of their favourite club, county and country. Their experience of agony and ecstasy in the ebb and flow of a competition is often expressed in terms of being in heaven or hell. Feeding on the worldwide passion for sport, corporate sponsorship of individuals and teams pours vast amounts of money into advertising on the pitch, in print and through television. Media expend much time and space covering and commenting on sport with the views of pundits fuelling controversy. Borrowing the language of religion, the media hyping of sport holds up its stadia as cathedrals, its stars as saviours and icons and herald its success) as redemption. It is not surprising that some see this part of popular culture as a new religion.   

There is long tradition of theology adopting and analysing sport. Saint Paul used it as a metaphor for the Christian journey while Pope John Paul II understood sport in terms of contributing to human excellence and solidarity. The Church’s historical involvement in sporting organisations indicates its interest in games as well as the Gospel, in playing and in praying. Today there is a wide range and growing frequency of biblical allusions and religious references in the media to communicate sporting activities and comment on personalities. The transfer of traditional Christian symbols and teachings to the sports pages in this way raises the question whether this is due to a different form of description or the diminishment of Christian revelation to reportage. There are important issues here around the meaning of sport, the manipulation of language and the mission of the Church.

Extensive emotional and economic investment in sport involves ethical problems for players and teams, managers and supporters. The loss of a sense of the sacred leads to the question whether sport is becoming a substitute for spirituality. Saving Sport explores key questions about the experience of sport and its expression by the media in the conversation between church and society and the discourse of faith and culture.