"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."
Baptists and Sport
In the 19th century Christians made a significant contribution to the development of sport in the UK. Churches formed sports teams and encouraged the playing of sport to promote "a healthy mind in a healthy body". There was also opposition to sport, often because of its association drinking and gambling and Sunday play.
Baptists were to be found in both camps. There were Baptist church teams in Mansfield in the late 19th century . Whereas in 1896 the deacons of Linanus Baptist Chapel, Treherbert in Wales threatened excommunication to anyone connected with rugby.
In 1911 FB Meyer led a successful campaign to stop a world heavyweight boxing match from taking place in London. His main concern appeared to be the brutality of it. In the end the fight was halted when the owners of Earls Court (the venue for the fight), obtained a court injunction stopping the fight from taking place. Ironically the judge who granted the injunction was a Baptist . Quite why Meyer fought so hard on this issue is unclear. It was the first and the last occasion that evangelicals were to challenge the legality of boxing in the court. It is hard not to see this as another encounter between sport and Christianity where the Christians come across with a negative attitude to sport.
In the late 20th century Baptists have played a prominent part in the development of sports ministry. Two Baptist ministers Rev Peter Swaffield and Rev John Boyers have served as Chaplains at Olympics and Commonwealth Games. John Boyers also founded a Sports Chaplaincy organization, SCORE, with Baptist Home Mission support has promoted sports chaplaincy in the UK and beyond. From the 1960s onwards Baptists churches have run football teams and organized sports events as a bridge to the community.
This article has been included in A Dictionary of European Baptist Life and Thought General Editor John H. Y. Briggs Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009.