Sport has room for prayer, but not in prayer rooms
The Queensland Maroons and their supporters in Melbourne for the State of Origin clash at Etihad Stadium are unlikely to seek the solace of a prayer room in the stadium to ensure success. The Blues and their supporters are facing a seventh consecutive series loss so the prayer room may be their only hope.
A prayer room, for all denominations, has recently been introduced at Etihad Stadium. The Australian Football League (AFL) wants all of its major football venues to house a place of worship.
The AFL intention comes after the Richmond Club’s mid fielder Bachar Houli a devout Muslim said the requirement for Muslims to pray five times a day was stopping many from attending AFL games. I know many Rugby League fans of the Muslim faith and they don’t seem deterred from attending games due to the absence of a prayer room.
Former Hawthorn Football Club President and Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has lashed out at the AFL over the ruling, describing it as “political correctness gone mad” and said the idea that it would result in bigger (Muslim) crowds was “moronic”.
As religious attendance rates have dropped off in recent decades, interest in sport spectatorship has soared. Karl Marx famously declared that religion was the opium of the people but it appears now that sport is the new opium of the people.
The similarities between sport and organised religion are striking. There is a specific vocabulary associated with both and both require faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, suffering, festival, and celebration. The singing of a team anthem or chant at a sporting event has a similar psychological effect on participants to the singing of a hymn in church.
Many prominent sports stars acknowledge their religious affiliations publicly with a signing of the cross or similar act occurring just prior to a sporting event happening.
Christian-turned-Muslim Mohammad Yousuf (formerly Yousuf Youhana) did not need a dedicated prayer room to give thanks after scoring a century for Pakistan against England at Lord’s in 2006. He simply knelt on the pitch towards Mecca.
Australian horse trainer Bart Cummings, a past student Marist Brothers Sacred Heart College in Adelaide, did not need a dedicated prayer room at the racetrack to give thanks for winning 12 Melbourne Cups.
In a country where cricket is nothing short of a religion, sportsmen, politicians and the public across India have prayed for cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s speedy recovery from cancer but not in prayer rooms at each ground.
World heavyweight boxer George Foreman did not need a prayer room in the stadium to achieve his successes but he quit boxing in 1977 and became a minister of religion.
Queensland supporters will salivate at the sight of the physique of 105kg Greg Inglis at Etihad Stadium moving at the pace of a top sprinter. As he thunders down the field his opponents could be forgiven for dropping to their knees in prayer, and maybe a prayer room at the ground will give them somewhere to hide.
Irascible and retired Melbourne Catholic priest and lover of sport Father Bob Maguire may have the answer. He suggests the entire ground be turned into a prayer room and use the scoreboard to encourage people to pray.
Perhaps a multi-faith Sportsman’s Prayer could be displayed.
And if we should win, let it be by the code
With my faith and my honour held high;
And if we should lose, let me stand by the road,
And cheer as the winners go by.
Ian Wallace is Maroons Supporter.
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