I am a great fan of sport! As a child I remember countless hours playing cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey, tennis and golf either at school level, or socially with family and friends. Sport teaches us so many valuable life principles like respect, teamwork, enjoyment, selflessness, physical health, discipline, hard work, commitment, patience, dealing with success and loss, etc.
Having said that, I have observed a worrying trend among some of South Africa’s professional sportsmen and politicians of late. These men are making promises that sport of no nature can deliver. Minister of Sport, Mr. Fikile Mbalula, made the following statement at the Commonwealth Bid being awarded to Durban for 2022, “Sport continues to unite South Africans, healing past wounds and creating a better future for all.” Our cricket captain, AB de Villiers, was talking to the media during the Cricket World Cup earlier this year, “There is also expectation from ourselves as well. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a big difference, to make South Africa a better place. We are playing for the bigger picture tomorrow, not just for ourselves, it’s for the entire nation.”
I do admit that sport has the power to inspire people. We as South Africans are well aware of the impact of the Springboks winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup had on our young democracy. It has been well documented in the popular film Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood. However, the effect that the World Cup and ‘Madiba Magic’ had on our country is one side of a many-faceted story. Our country experienced a miracle transitioning from an Apartheid Government to a Democracy. And we owe our gratitude to those who paid a price for our peace and unity – men, women, students, churches, activists, political prisoners, spiritual leaders, foreign nations, etc.
With the Rugby World Cup being in the headlines, I’ve heard similar claims from some Springbok personnel. Springbok coach, Heyneke Meyer, said the following after the Boks defeated Samao, “We really want to make the country proud. Our country needs a lot of hope and the Springboks are the hope of the country.” Some of these claims are worrisome for me as a follower of Jesus for two reasons.
- They are making claims that only God can fulfil, therefore deceiving themselves and the public.
For our sports minister to say that sport can ‘heal past wounds’ is quite naïve. He is not talking about physical wounds, but hurts to the soul of man. How can sport heal the soul of man? How can sport take a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh? The Bible is clear that it is only God that can do such a miraculous act. God is speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)
Heyneke Meyer’s proclamation that the ‘Springboks are the hope of the country’ is even more disturbing. If that is the case, then every Springbok loss diminishes our hope, whereas every win increases our hope. A win by South Africa on the sports field will make us happy for a while, but eventually it wears off. The question is, “Will these sports teams or individuals cause everything to work together for the good of every single South African (Romans 8:28)? Will these sporting gods give us a wonderful hope and eternal comfort (2 Thessalonians 2:16)?”
Do they have the power to perform what they promise? I think the resounding answer is ‘NO’. The Christian believes that God is the Hope of the world. The Holy Scriptures are quite clear on this, “In his (Jesus) name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:21)
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” (Psalm 62:5)
As a spiritual leader, I would be arrogant to think that I can give people hope. The only thing I can do is to POINT people to Christ, the Hope of the World. The hope God has poured into me, I can share with others. “…If someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15b NLT) Yet I would be deceived, and deceive others, to think that I can manufacture and reproduce hope. God is the SOURCE of HOPE for South Africans.
- They are putting undue pressure on themselves, and creating unrealistic expectations among the sporting public.
International sportsmen and women are under immense pressure to compete at the highest levels of their respective disciplines. Their performances are widely reported on the front and back pages of newspapers around the world. One missed tackle, or dropped catch, or mediocre game, or wrong decision by the referee, can alter the course of their careers. They can be dropped from the team, receive criticism from the public and media, and lose their income or endorsement deals.
Why would they add to these pressures an unrealistic endeavour which they don’t possess the means to fulfil? Why would they promise their fans something which they can’t deliver? Why do they take up a burden on their shoulders which they were not made to carry? Why do they presume to take the place of God in the lives of people through the statements they make?
I realize these are some confrontational questions! The reason I am confronting this line of thinking, is because the souls of men and women are at stake. God’s Word decrees that we must have NO other gods before us (Exodus 20:3-5). God is the only being able to fulfil our deepest needs. David says it so well in Psalm 16:11,
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.”
May we ENJOY our sport, yet ENJOY our God even more. I leave you with this question, “Do you show more exuberance when Habana scores a try, or when you thank God for what He is doing in your life?” Let our bodies, minds, emotions, words, thoughts and actions SHOW that we LOVE God with everything we’ve got. (Matthew 22:34-40)