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Supporting the elite?

Last month, we saw how Olympian Adam Pengilly found his identity in Christ.

Field of Dreams Graham Daniels
Figure Image
Captains of the Six Nations Rugby teams 2017 | photo: www.wantedinrome.com

He did this in the face of great disappointment. Adam is one of hundreds of elite athletes supported by Christians in Sport over the years, and today this focus remains a key part of our work. We have a team who support elite athletes across more than 34 sports, while focusing on nine, specifically to build a deep and sustainable work within them.

10 million people

Our vision is to reach the world of sport for Christ and there are more than 10 million people playing in clubs and teams in the UK alone. We do not value the life of a professional sportsperson more than an amateur one, so why do we invest so much in terms of staff and hours in such a small number of people? Maybe that’s a question you’re asking as you read this? Let me give you two main answers.

Firstly, being a top-level sportsperson often means lots of time away from home due to training and competition schedules. An Olympic rower, for example, can spend up to five months of the year ‘on the road’. All this leads to regular and significant times away from local church community and teaching, making it difficult for churches to support and reach them.

Partnering with churches is key to all of our work and therefore we want to make sure elite athletes are rooted in a local church. Our staff can ‘team up’ with the athletes’ churches to help support them. For example, we regularly host Bible studies with track and field athletes at IAAF Diamond League meetings (the sport’s premier circuit) around Europe.

Uniquely challenging

Secondly, the unique pressures that come from top-level sport mean following Jesus as an elite athlete can be particularly challenging. Elite sport is a profession where you continually have to prove yourself to get selected, where your salary or funding is dependent on maintaining extremely high levels of performance and often where you’re intensely scrutinised by the media and fans. Many of our staff have previously been in this position themselves, so can offer great advice as to how elite athletes can stand tall for Jesus.

In all situations, this support is more, but never less than, getting God’s Word open with sportspeople. As we continue in this work, we long to see more Christians boldly living for Jesus in top-level sport. Indeed, it is these athletes who are best placed to reach their teammates with the good news, just as the member of a grassroots rugby club is ideally located to share the gospel and life with those he or she plays alongside on a Saturday.

Building trust

Because this work is for the elite athletes, we never ask them to appear or speak at our events. It may look a good tactic from a publicity point of view or to gain support for our work, but the needs and support of the athlete are the priority. We want to build up their trust as we support them. Where suitable, however, we will feature former elite sportspeople, who are mature in faith, in our communications, as we recognise the insight and encouragement they can give others.

Join us in prayer

During 2018, we have a number of focuses, with one especially in elite tennis. We were able to hold Bible studies at Wimbledon and the US Open last year and long to see deep gospel impact on the men’s and women’s professional tours. Indeed, that is something we’re praying for all our work among elite sportspeople. Maybe it’s something you could join us in lifting to our Heavenly Father?

Graham Daniels, General Director, Christians in Sport www.christiansinsport.org.uk