Australian Sport and Spirituality

Australian Sport and Spirituality

Tod & Ana Gobledale – Australia

Tod & Ana Gobledale – Australia

Our colleagues on the faculty of the Churches of Christ Theological College (CCTC) are a dynamic group of scholars and ministers. Dr. Tim McCowan teaches Spirituality, and in one class focuses on Australian spirituality. One area he ruminates on regularly is sport and the role it plays in Australian spirituality. The following article originally appeared in the Australian Christian, the magazine serving the Churches of Christ in Australia. Enjoy!…

Sport: An Australian Male Spirituality?
by Dr. Tim McCowan

Sleeping-in on a Saturday morning is now a thing of my past! The sun has barely risen when the crisp clack of willow on leather, enthusiastic appeals of “Howzat,” and intermittent bursts of applause disturb my rest. You see, my new home overlooks a sports oval; a site for closely fought contests all weekend. On this little patch of turf from morning til dusk, men of various ages and sizes pit their strength and stamina against their cricketing rivals. Despite it being only 8 a.m., I also hear car boots slamming, and rattling golf clubs being wheeled in buggies onto the nearby golf course. I venture outside but need to be vigilant for the streams of runners whooshing past me striving to beat their best times. Later, my Dad phones to inform me of his team effort on the bowling green. He assumes I’m interested in “ends” and “kitties”, and he’s right!

What motivates so many Aussie men[1] to sacrifice their Saturday on such energy expending activities? Is it just about improving fitness or having a diversion from work, or could sport significantly contribute to their personal and social well-being, beneficially rearranging their internal furniture? I believe the passion and commitment of so many Australian men to sport, whether as participants or spectators, bears the hallmarks of a vibrant spirituality. It is, for them, a chosen way to be in their world and connect with others. Consider, too, Paul uses sporting imagery to compare the Christian life to competing in a marathon, requiring the hard discipline of on-going training.[2]

For some, sport can’t qualify as spiritual due to its association with a win-at-all-costs mentality and sexist, racist and drunken behavior. Sport is tarnished, too, by excessive commercialization and the idolization of our sporting heroes. Without minimizing these realities, the popularity and passion of men’s involvement still testifies to a desire worthy of serious reflection by the Christian church.

Spirituality concerns our relation with spirit; both that intangible dimension within all living things and the transcendent Spirit who upholds our entire cosmos. It is spirit that moves us out toward self-transcendence, to make connections with others and larger realities beyond ourselves. And Scripture attests that the Spirit often leads us into conflict with a rival to help clarify our calling or to strengthen our resolve against wrongdoing.[3] Sport correlates with many of these elements.

Men seemingly require a challenge or opponent to better understand themselves and their relative strengths and limitations. Through rivalry and conflict a man’s sense of power can be tested, hopefully teaching relinquishment of control, perseverance against difficult odds, appropriate toughness to address wrong-doing and to achieve ones best. Further, through a team sport men learn the value of discipline, how to say “No” to self for the sake of a shared goal, and healthy interdependence upon team-mates. For me, these suggest sport has significant elements of an interesting spirituality for many men.

This musing won’t give back my Saturday morning sleep-ins, but it does give me a greater appreciation for why Aussie men get so passionate about their sport.

Tim “follows the Saints (St. Kilda’s footy team), the Bushrangers (Victoria’s cricket team), the Socceroos (Australia’s soccer team) and other battlers in various sporting codes.” 

[1] Sport is not confined to Aussie men of course; women participate as fully these days and the worldwide interest in sport is well-documented. But are men seeking something more through it?
[2] I Cor 9:24-27.
[3] See for instance, Matt 4:1ff, 10:34-36, Mk 8:31-38. Acts 4:1-22, 7:54-60, 10:44-11:18.

Submitted by:
Tod and Ana Gobledale
The Gobledales serve the Common Global Ministries Board at Churches of Christ Theological College (Seminary) in Australia.  They are accompanied by their 16-year old son, Mandla, who attends Rowville Secondary College, the local high school.  Their 19-year old daughter, Thandiwe, continues her university studies at Pomona College, in Claremont, California.