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Photo: Enigma-Sport

"Lord, I don't ask that I should win, but please, please don't let me finish behind Akabusi."

Innocent Egbunike's prayer at the 1988 Olympics

An Opportunity to Love One’s Neighbour

Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39)

These words of Jesus, represent a significant challenge to us as we play competitive sport. In a culture where hating an opponent may be considered the norm, we are to see our opponent as a neighbour and to love them. We are to see God in the joy of companionship and competition that we find in sport.

Working out the challenge of loving our opponent in the hurly-burly of competitive sport is not easy. Team and individual sports present different challenges.

Take a football team with 2 goalkeepers – one plays the other is on the bench Each week one will be disappointed. If you are on the bench, half of you would like your team to score and win. The other half of us can’t help thinking that if the opposition score, it will increase your chance of getting on the pitch. Can you genuinely say “all the best” to the player playing in your position before they go out to play the game? If they go down with an injury do you feel any sense of pity or is it all about you getting your chance now?

If you did not struggle with that sometimes, you would not be human. Selection in sport is rarely black and white. Can you love the coach/selector who has left you out of the team for the big competition? Loving your team mates can be difficult. Yet as sportspeople our sports team is the natural place to model what we’ve learnt in the Christian community. Our role in the team should be to bring the qualities of Christ into the team.

What is your attitude to your opponents? Are you looking to unsettle them or gain a psychological advantage? Are you loving them as yourself? A friend of mine describes big sports events as 4 funerals and a wedding. If you are fortunate enough to be the happy winner, do you take a moment to console the athlete whose dreams and aspirations have just disappeared.

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