"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play…it is war minus the shooting."
Never on Sundays?'Mum, Mum, I've been picked for the county netball squad!' said Jane. 'That's wonderful,' replied her mother. 'When's the first match?' 'Next Sunday morning!' In that moment the colour drained from Jane's mother's face. She was thrilled at her daughter's achievement but worried by the fact that, as a Christian family, Sunday mornings were always spent at church.
That scene is being acted out in an increasing number of Christian families around the country, as more and more sport is played on Sundays. It is an issue for the professional and for the club player, but is probably more acute for the teenager, as a very high proportion of teenage sport takes place on a Sunday. For most Christian families it is teenagers who are at the cutting edge of the Sunday sport issue. We shall return to that practical problem in due course. At this point it may be helpful to describe and analyse the issue.
First of all we need to understand the problem. The 'Sunday sport' issue means different things to different people. For some there is an intrinsic problem with playing sport on a Sunday. For others there is only a problem if the sport clashes with church or some other Christian duty. An interesting recent dimension to the issue is the increasing trend in large American churches to have parallel services on a Saturday evening. If one is in the habit of attending a Saturday church service, then Sunday sport may cease to be an issue at all.
While our focus here is sport, for other families sport could be replaced by music or drama and the issues would be the same.
History of Sunday Sport
It is impossible to generalise about the extent of Sunday play in sport. There is great variety from sport to sport. In tennis, for example, most tournaments - including Wimbledon - involve Sunday play. There would be no contract in professional cricket for the player who was unavailable on Sundays, with Sunday cricket an essential part of the county scene. Over 90% of professional golf tournaments involve Sunday play. In Rugby Union, towards half the major games take place on a Sunday, even more in Rugby League. Club hockey is as likely to be played on a Sunday as a Saturday. The first Sunday racing took place at Doncaster in 1992.
At a time when there are normally three live football matches on TV on an average Sunday, it may be hard for us to believe what a recent phenomenon Sunday football is. It effectively started on 15 February 1981 - although there had been some Sunday games in 1974. Now Sunday games are commonplace - often, but not always, to suit TV schedules. Football cannot be shown live on a Saturday afternoon as the televised game could affect the attendance at live games. Therefore, a different slot has to be found for it. There are Friday night and Monday night games but Sunday afternoon has become the preferred time for weekend TV football.
Christians who oppose Sunday sport often quote the sporting stars of the past in support of their cause, such as Dorothy Round, the 1934 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion, who said, 'I shall never consent to play any tennis on Sundays.'
David Sheppard, recently retired Anglican bishop of Liverpool, was in the 60s a Test cricketer. In his autobiography he stated his position on Sunday sport: 'When my faith in Christ became a real thing, I started to think differently about Sunday cricket. Until then I had frequently played in Sunday club matches or charity games. Now I wanted my faith to grow. I needed time to worship God...time to think, time to relax and talk to other Christians.' (Parson's Pitch, Hodder, 1964) Accordingly David Sheppard decided not to play cricket on Sundays any more.
Vic Pollard and Bryan Yuile, who played Test cricket for New Zealand in the 1970s, were others who took a stand on the Sunday issue. On one tour to England, Pollard states that he was willing to play on Sundays in the interests of the team, but would prefer not to. Again, this was in a period when there were significantly fewer Sunday games.
Jack Hobbs, one of England's greatest ever batsmen who played in the 1930s, refused to play in a Sunday match on a tour to India. The match was rearranged.
The film, Chariots of Fire, brought the Sunday sport issue to the attention of the Christian public in a new way. The film featured two athletes from the 1920s, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, who is the historical champion of abstinence from Sunday sport. According to the film, Liddell was on his way to the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris when he discovered that the final of the 100 metres race was to be held on a Sunday. He decided that he would not run, and even a meeting with the Prince of Wales on the cross-channel ferry would not convince him to change his mind.
However, the real-life facts are a little different. Liddell actually knew months in advance what the Olympic schedule would be and accordingly made his decision to run the 200 and 400 rather than the 100 and 200 metres. He gained bronze in the 200 and gold in the 400. The win was made the more poignant by a note handed to him before the race: 'He who honours me I will honour.'(1 Samuel 2:30.)
Sally Magnusson wrote, '"I'm not running," he said, and nothing would budge him. He didn't make a fuss but was absolutely firm about it. The Sabbath was God's day and he would not run. Not even in the Olympic Games... Reverence for the Sabbath was as natural to Eric as breathing and infinitely more precious than a gold medal.' (The Flying Scotsman Quartet, 1981)
In 'The Lord's Day - 100 Leaders Speak Out' (Lord's Day Observance Society), there is a longer quote from Eric Liddell: 'There are many people today who think of those who honour Sunday in an old-fashioned way as kill-joys. They feel that during the years of their youth they ought to have a chance to "have their fling". Give me the day of rest, when all the savours of organised games can be put on one side and all life's joys will be greater because of it. To me personally it is a time of communion and fellowship with God, a time of quiet, in fact a time of re-creation by fellowship with God. I believe that Sunday as we have had it in the past is one of the greatest helps in a young man's life to keep all that is noblest, truest and best.'
One cannot but admire the courage of Eric Liddell and others in sticking to their convictions. However, is it a realistic attitude today? Can the attitudes of the 1920s and 1930s be applied in the early years of the new millennium? Today Sunday sport is so much more prevalent than it was. Dorothy Round could win Wimbledon in the 1930s, while holding to her principles of never on Sunday. Today she would struggle to get to the world's top 300 if she did not play on Sunday. Similarly Jack Hobbs and David Sheppard could opt out of Sunday cricket. Is that a realistic option in 2000? Dilemmas for the Modern Professional
Today's professional (or top amateur) sportsperson cannot avoid Sunday competition. If you are going to compete at the highest level, Sunday sport is inevitable. How do Christians cope? It may help our understanding of the issues to look at a number of real life case-studies.
One of the first Christian footballers who had to face the issue of Sunday play was Alan West, captain of Luton Town in the late 1970s. Luton was to play Leyton Orient on a Sunday. The press got hold of the story and, amazingly, most of the national papers ran the story of how Alan would have to miss church to play for Luton. In the end Alan was not selected for the match - perhaps the manager felt that his heart was not really in the game - who knows?
Alan did subsequently play on the occasional Sunday, reluctantly but without going against his conscience. What saddened him was the critical attitude of some Christians. He said, 'I decided to play after giving it a lot of thought and prayer, realizing that it was my job, not just something I was doing for fun, and that I was under contract. I felt that if doctors and nurses, the police or bus-drivers could do their jobs on a Sunday, what was the difference between them and me? It is funny, though. When members of my church who work at Vauxhall do Sunday shifts, no one says a word. Yet when I do my job on a Sunday everyone is up in arms.'
Mark Frost was a professional cricketer, playing for Surrey and Glamorgan. He now holds a significant post in sports administration in Wales. Inevitably he played Sunday cricket when required. In recent years the Sunday league has been well supported and, as such, brought in welcome revenue to the counties.
Mark is a committed Christian who was sure that cricket was part of God's plan for his life. He saw himself as a witness in the world of professional cricket. Experience has taught him that being there in the dressing room as a Christian is often enough to provoke questions about Christianity without Mark having to look for angles.
If he wanted to keep his job Mark had no choice about Sunday cricket. As he put it at the time, 'There are no professional cricketers who can say to the captain, "Sorry, I can't play Sundays. I go to church." Most captains would reply, "OK then, play in the second team all year." The choice for me is play or no job. Despite what some people may think, I have thought deeply about the issue.
'At one stage I started getting hostile mail, often anonymous, questioning my commitment to Christ and condemning me for desecrating the Lord's day. My response is that if I were not in the dressing room, there would be no Christian presence and no conversations about spiritual things. Moreover, looking at the Bible, one reads in Matthew 12 how Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and when the Pharisees criticised him, he stated that a) it is lawful to do good and b) he is Lord of the Sabbath.
'I take reassurance from Colossians 2 where Paul writes, "Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a new moon celebration or a sabbath day." When criticism comes, Paul goes on, "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility disqualify you for the prize."' For Mark the most frustrating thing was receiving criticism from people who seemed to assume that he hadn't thought about the issues.
Violet McBride played hockey for years without ever being confronted with the Sunday issue. Then, when she was in the running for selection for the Great Britain squad for the 1988 Olympics, she found that many of the training sessions were on Sundays - so much so that she began to consider whether or not she should continue to be involved.
'Missing church regularly on Sundays was a problem for me. I asked myself, was I doing the right thing? I prayed about whether or not I should continue to seek selection for the Olympic team. In the next few weeks I had more opportunities to talk to team-mates about God than ever before. I felt very much that God was saying "I want you to be involved in the team."'
Throughout the Olympic period Violet had constant encouragements. 'While I never seek to button-hole anyone, in small ways I often had opportunities to share my Christian principles and values.' None of this would have happened had Violet decided to opt out of the GB hockey squad on the Sunday issue.
Two top-level performers who have resolutely refused to play on Sundays are athlete, Barrington Williams and New Zealand rugby player, Michael Jones. Interestingly, both competed as amateurs.
In 1988 Barrington Williams was the leading UK long jumper and also a sprinter. However, the long jump was without doubt his main event. When the Olympic timetable was published, the long jump was set for a Sunday. Barrington decided to seek Olympic selection only in the 100 metres. Against the odds, he came third in the Olympic trials and made the team.
Michael Jones, the New Zealand rugby player, was for several years in most people's opinion the best wing forward in the world. In the 1987 World Cup, Michael was good enough to play in the quarter-final, opt out of the Sunday semi-final and still be chosen for the final.
The schedule for the 1991 World Cup in Europe was less accommodating. The way the tournament unfolded - call it the luck of the draw or the hand of God - New Zealand was left playing more Sunday games than any other team. In fact three out of their six matches, including the quarter-final and semi-final, were on Sundays.
In the end Michael Jones played in only one match which really mattered in the World Cup - their opening game when New Zealand defeated England, effectively sealing their place in the quarter-final. Jones scored the decisive try. Beyond that, he played only in a one-sided match against the USA, and the match to decide third place, after New Zealand had been knocked out of the main competition.
Opinions differed on Michael's decision to make himself unavailable for the Sunday games. Some saw it as the supreme example of a Christian sportsman putting his principles first and saying that his faith in God - and his view of Sunday - were more important than a game of rugby, even a World Cup semi-final. Others saw it as a waste of his talent, arguably denying his team the chance of winning the World Cup.
He came under pressure to play on Sundays. Some people even suggested to him that Sunday in England is Monday in New Zealand - because of the time difference. Michael answered that suggestion in a Radio Wales interview: 'You can't trick God. You can't muck around with him. It is where you are at the time and Sunday wherever you are, which is the day that has been put aside for church and fellowship.'
Michael also spoke about his aim in taking his stand: 'When you stop playing rugby people easily forget you; one thing for which I would like to be remembered is as a person who put God first, before rugby. If it's been worthwhile doing that then it is worthwhile, and I feel it's important that people who never would have heard about God have done so through my stand. If I've been able to show people that there is obviously a God who must exist or else someone wouldn't be prepared to do that, then I feel it's been worth it. If I can do that I'm happy.' Keep Sunday Special
The case for a Sunday free of sport is put by such bodies as the Keep Sunday Special campaign and the Lord's Day Observance Society. In a 1989 publication by the Lord's Day Observance Society, The Lord's Day - 100 Leaders Speak Out, the foreword states, 'Throughout the history of this nation, we have been privileged to possess a great Christian and national heritage... One of the most important aspects of our great heritage is the Lord's day. In this publication we have listed one hundred statements from leading people, including church leaders, politicians, doctors and sportsmen, who have testified to the importance of the Lord's day.
'It is our prayer that as you read their testimonies, they may stimulate you to make an even firmer stand for the promotion and preservation of this God-given gift which has been a blessing to our people in the past and which will be, we trust, for generations to come.'
The case for keeping Sunday special, as set out in Why Keep Sunday Special published by the Jubilee Centre in 1985, depends more on the sabbath principle than on an argument developed from proof texts. It is stated, 'A day of rest is part of God's plan for all men. It is part of what is best for man. Setting Sunday apart helps ensure that we make time in the week to rest... A day in the week when almost everybody is free from work is an important way to help family life and friendships to flourish, by giving people time to spend together.'
Interestingly, the case does not rest on what is often seen as the basis for the Christian attitude to Sunday. The authors state that the reason for keeping Sunday special is 'NOT because Sunday is the New Testament Sabbath. In our view it is not... [because] it is a sin to work on Sunday. Working on Sunday is not necessarily sinful. Paul tells us that whether we keep Sunday special or not is a matter of individual conscience. Working on Sunday is only wrong if it leads us to neglect the underlying principles of love for God and love for our neighbour.'
The authors of Why Keep Sunday Special conclude this section of their argument by noting that while Jesus and the apostles kept a day special in the week, there is no command to God's people to do likewise.
Many Christians today are strongly opposed to Sunday sport. Two letters to the Christian publication, the Christian Herald, a few years back illustrate the point. 'I was pleased to see the letter on the subject of Sunday sport recently. It seems very regrettable that so many sporting events are now arranged to take place on the Lord's Day. I feel concerned about Christians being tempted to watch such events. Many years ago Eric Liddell set a good example when he refused to run in the Olympics on a Sunday and other sportsmen and women have taken a similar stand. With such good examples before us, surely Christians today should seek to stand firm on this issue.' Also, 'What a pity we do not hear more of those Christians who refuse to play their sport on a Sunday. We need Christians in Sport to make a stand for the Lord and his Day.' Bishop of Rochester
In November 1997 the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, entered this debate. He sent an open letter to head teachers in the diocese. The full text of the letter was as follows:
'I am writing to say how much I appreciate all that you put into the community and particularly in the care and nurture of the young. I am also writing to share with you a concern which has been emerging for me in the last few months. Community leaders such as yourselves rightly expect the Church to give a lead in the moral and spiritual formation of young people. In most cases local churches are only too eager to do this. Their efforts, however, can be seriously hampered if football and rugby clubs, cricket matches and the like, clash with the time for divine worship.
'As I go around the diocese, I am aware that more and more of these fixtures are timed for Sunday morning - the very time when churches have their worship, junior church, parade services and Sunday school. Again and again, I have seen youngsters torn between their desire to be in church with their families and the attraction of football and cricket.
'Is it not possible for these clubs to meet on Saturday or Sunday afternoons? Why has it got to be Sunday morning? Please can you influence your community and in particular the organisers of sports clubs, so that young people are able to go to church on Sunday morning, if they wish to do so. It is important for the spiritual and moral health of this nation. I am sure that churches and church-related institutions are aware already that their premises should not be used for alternative activities on Sunday morning.
'Thank you for taking the time to read this and with gratitude, once again, for your work. I look forward to your response. In Christ's service, Michael Roffen.'
It is interesting to note that the Bishop here clearly aligns himself with the 'Sunday sport is only an issue when it clashes with church' lobby. He has no problem with Sunday sport as such. It is also interesting to me that he seems to have given no thought to the idea of churches recognising the fact of Sunday sport and trying to be creative as to when they hold their 'worship, junior church, parade services and Sunday school'. Do these have to be exclusively on Sunday morning?
While anecdotal evidence is of limited value in addressing what some see as a moral issue, it is interesting to see how Christian families at different levels of sport and from different denominational backgrounds have faced the issues of Sunday sport. There is also the temptation to write policy from individual cases. Take two sporty Christian families: one allows their children to play Sunday sport, the other family does not. If the children grow up believing in Christ, each family will no doubt conclude that its attitude to Sunday sport is vindicated!
A report in Faith Today (Canada's Evangelical News/Feature Magazine) of November/December 1995, begins with an interesting question: 'What do you do when your son's ice hockey games take place on an evening when you work?' The article then mentions that the father in question is pastor of a church! Well, what should he do? The article continues: "If you are pastor John McLaverty, you ask the elders and deacons for the night off. McLaverty, pastor of Spring Garden Baptist Church in Willowdate on the border of Toronto, had always been involved in his sons' sport".
'McLaverty decided to manage the team for two reasons. He wanted to show his sons that work was not more important than family, and he saw it as a ministry opportunity. So he asked the deacons and elders for Sunday evenings off. The church, which McLaverty describes as fairly progressive and open, granted his request. "Jesus faced the same issue when he healed and became involved in ministry on the Sabbath," says McLaverty. "Christians have to be out in the real world. We have to be a Christian in our culture."
'McLaverty thinks he had an impact on the non-Christians around him while managing the team. "People knew I was a Christian and a minister. Some have come to church. I've also been asked to do funerals for people I've known from sports," he said.'
"Dickie Bird (a building supervisor at the University of Essex, not the cricket umpire) had a different experience. His sons were involved in Sunday football before he became a Christian. 'When my wife and I became Christians we began to question where we should be on a Sunday, supporting our boys or in fellowship with other Christians in our local church? So we decided to spend time with the Lord in prayer, and we asked him to clearly show us where he would have us be and how we could really serve him.
'The following Sunday, while watching the boys playing football, without any leading up to it at all, one of the other parents asked right out of the blue if we were Christians and we were able to share our faith with them. Since then we have had some very interesting conversations, either on the touchline or back in the clubhouse over a drink. Since that time God has been very gracious to us and clearly shown us where he wants us to be - right there in the changing rooms of life. Over the last couple of years, as I have got more involved in sport and its outreach I have seen a lot of seeds sown and I am sure that in the Lord's time those seeds will bear fruit. The ball must ultimately lie in our court, but if we are prepared to spend time in prayer with the Lord and listen to what he has to say, then I am sure he will guide each and every one of us to what path he would have us take.'
David Adcock, a full-time elder in the Community Church, Southampton, wrote an account of his experience in the Christians in Sport magazine under the title, 'Confessions of a Footballer's Father'. It all started when his son, Stephen, started to play for Lordswood United.
'The first difficult decision to make was when we discovered that the team was to play on Sunday mornings. The tune of Chariots of Fire ran through my mind. Should we allow him to play and thereby miss church? This obviously has to be an individual decision but for Stephen, who attends a Christian school and has been brought up with his life steeped in the church, we thought it was OK. Obviously, though, I couldn't be a dad on the touchline most weeks. Rumours flew around amongst the other parents.
"Where's Steve's dad?"
"I think he works on a Sunday."
"Yeah? What's he do?"
"He's a vicar, isn't he?"
"No! Can't be!"
'Actually, for someone like myself who spends so much of his time with church people, Lordswood United has given me plenty of opportunities to gently share my faith. It's not been all roses, however. I got myself into a potentially heated argument when opposing fans were accusing a linesman of cheating. Then I desperately hoped that I would not be recognised as a Christian! I learnt through that incident and now try to chat to parents from the other team.
'What about Stephen? He's had to learn to win and to lose, to keep his head up whilst facing defeat, to forgive those who make mistakes as well as forgiving opposing forwards who go in over the top, and to bounce back when he fumbles the ball. Travelling with the other lads has given him opportunities to share his faith, and finding some success in football has greatly increased his confidence.'
John, Dickie and David are just three examples of people addressing the Sunday sport issue. Their experience is recorded, not to be followed blindly, but in the hope that it may help someone else as they think through the issues. Summary of Issues
Before moving towards some kind of solution from a biblical perspective, let us attempt a summary of the issues raised. Sunday sport is essentially a modern issue, with Sunday play becoming the norm only in the past 20-30 years in most professional sports. This explains why there is often a generational difference of opinion on the subject. Most Christians would prefer not to have to play on a Sunday but if the particular event or competition takes place on a Sunday, then the choice is either to play then, or to opt out of the competition altogether.
Some Christians decide not to compete on a Sunday because they feel it would be wrong to do so. Others do not see it in terms of 'right' and 'wrong' but rather as choosing not to play on a Sunday for personal spiritual reasons. Still others only see a conflict if the Sunday sport clashes with a church service. These distinctions are important. If you are asking what is the biblical answer to the Sunday sport question, you need also to know which Sunday sport question that is!
It is also important to understand the issue from the sportsperson's perspective. Unsporty people often see the issue as not playing your sport on Sunday when you have six other days for sport; as you have six other days to play football, hockey or netball then it is not much of a sacrifice not to play on one day. With respect, that attitude misses the point: if your club plays all its matches on Sunday and if all the county fixtures are on Sunday, then either you play on Sunday or you don't play at all. Sunday Sport, a Biblical View
Our starting point in a consideration of Sunday sport from a biblical perspective is the belief, as expressed in chapter 1, that sport is part of God's creation and is therefore good. Eric Liddell's 'when I run, I feel his pleasure' is a thoroughly biblical view. It follows from this that it cannot be argued, in absolute terms, that attending church is better than playing football. (Of course there are the issues of a need for fellowship, teaching, being part of a community of believers and balance in life, which we will address later.)
The point being made here is to challenge the theology behind the opinion often expressed to today's sporty teenager, that in a conflict between church and Sunday sport, choosing church is always better. If sport is part of God's creation, then God can (and must) be worshipped on the sports field as much as anywhere else.
We read in Genesis 2:3, "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy' and in Exodus 20:8, 'Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy'. Have these texts any relevance to the issue of Sunday sport? I would suggest not. If sport is part of God's creation there is nothing unholy about it. There is also the wider issue of what is meant by the Sabbath.
In an article in the Australian SLM (Specialised Life-Oriented Ministries) Newsletter, entitled, 'Sunday Sport is not a Compromise', Simon Manchester argues, 'I know the "one day in seven" is a very sacred cow but it is not taught in Genesis 2, before the fall, or after the resurrection. Try giving a new Christian a New Testament and see if they can find any law about the Sabbath - it's gone! But the commandment to remember the seventh day is fulfilled in Christians who come to Jesus and then live seven days in his spiritual worship (Romans12:1).'
Simon Manchester also points out that Genesis 2 is often misunderstood. 'Many people read Genesis 2 and assume it tells us to have a day of rest. It doesn't. In Genesis 2:1 we are told that God rested, but nowhere does he tell the man and woman to rest.'
He continues his argument through Old Testament references. 'In Exodus 16 after he rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, Moses begins to teach them about the seventh day by telling them not to work. In Exodus 20 he leads them to the Sinai mountain and makes the seventh day a law (the fourth commandment). In Leviticus 25 he makes it law to rest the land - proof positive that the "rest" is bigger than sitting around! In Deuteronomy 5 he repeats the law - they must remember God their maker, rescuer and priorities of the "rest".'
In the New Testament, Jesus says to his followers, 'Come to me and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:25), and in Hebrews 4:3 we learn that we enter God's sabbath rest by believing in Christ. We are called not just to keep one day holy, but to live all seven days in spiritual worship of God (Romans 12:1).
Simon Manchester concludes his argument, 'Sunday is useful for meeting to learn about Jesus Christ (and special because it's the resurrection day) but there is no teaching in the New Testament about physical resting or which day is essential. (See Romans 14:5, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.")'
The heart of the issue is our understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Sabbath. That is the fundamental theological issue at stake here. Is the biblical position on the Sabbath one that it is absolutely sacred as a day to be set aside for not working, for worshipping God and meeting together as Christians?
If God made everything and there is nothing sacred or secular, then to worship God is to worship him with all that you are, with all your heart, mind etc. and if you're doing that in sport it's the same as saying your prayers.
But the fundamental issue is a Sabbatarian issue - if the Sunday is a Sabbath in the New Testament is it a specific day of the week or not? If the Sabbath for the Christian means entering into the sabbath rest talked about in Hebrews (where we enter into a sabbath rest in Christ and therefore all the time is a sabbath rest in Christ) that means that all the time is a 'Sunday'. Every moment of every day is a time to worship God - not just the first 24 hours of each week.
Playing sport on Sunday is as legitimate as any other human activity. There is nothing inherently sinful about sport on Sunday. At the same time, the implications of regular Sunday sport clashing with church need to be addressed both by the individual and the Church. It is a clear teaching of Scripture that we should be having regular fellowship and Christian teaching. If this cannot be done on a Sunday morning, then another time in the week needs to be found. The Christian teenager and Christian parents of teenagers have a responsibility to ensure that their legitimate involvement in sport on Sunday morning does not prevent them from growing in their Christian lives.
Equally, church leaders and youth leaders, confronted with many of their teenagers' involvement in Sunday sport (or music etc), would be well-advised to consider if there is a more appropriate time of the week for their youth activities than Sunday mornings.
Now let us return to the issue where we started and approach it in the light of biblical material and the experience of other sportspeople. In noting the predominance of Sunday teenage sport, it would be unwise to see within it a devilish plot. There are strong pragmatic reasons why so much teenage sport takes place on a Sunday.
1. Availability of pitches: the author has been involved in a boys' football club for several years which runs up to nine age-groups, from 7-16. With the best will in the world, it is impossible for nine age-groups to be accommodated on two pitches in one day. However, if half the teams play on Saturday and half on Sunday, then the problem is solved.
2. Clashes for players: school sport is generally deemed to take priority over club sport on a Saturday, making Sunday a safer bet for club fixtures. Moreover, teenagers attending independent schools are often in school on Saturday mornings. In some sports clubs, matches may be on Saturdays and county and representative matches on Sundays.
3. Clashes for coaches: in some cases club coaches may be teachers who are involved with school teams on Saturdays. Again the coaches may play for a Saturday team. In either case the coach is only available to a club if it has Sunday fixtures.
4. League rules: in many cases the day that a team plays is determined by the league rules. For example in the area in which I live, the Witney Boys' football leagues are Saturday leagues up to the age of 11 and Sunday leagues at 11+. If a team in the 11+ age groups does not want to play on Sundays, they cannot play competitive football.
Solving the Problem
There are no easy answers for the Christian family caught in this situation. Here are some suggestions as to a strategy.
1. Share the dilemma with your church leadership and get them involved in supporting you in the decision you make.
2. Check if there is an alternative to Sunday morning. If it is the county squad then obviously there is no alternative - either you play when they play or you don't play at all. If it is a club, check if there is any scope for playing on Saturdays or even Sunday afternoons. Talk to the team manager about your dilemma. It sometimes emerges that other parents, for whatever reason, would also prefer not to play on Sunday mornings.
3. Look for a Christian alternative. If you decide to play on Sunday mornings then look for a Christian group which meets another time of the week, for example a Crusader group. Or try to persuade your church to provide a group for the relevant age group at a time other than on a Sunday morning.
4. Finally, whatever decision you take, go for it with all your might.
For an alternative view of the issues relating to Sunday sport, see Greg Linville, The Theology of Competition: Addendum 1, Lord's Day issues (available from Overwhelming Victory Ministries, Canton, Ohio). The argument in his paper is that 'any organised athletic activity which prohibits (or curtails) one's involvement in using the Lord's day as a day for spiritual development including preventing one from attending church, or which makes someone unnecessarily work, must not be organised or participated in.'
While it is neither necessary nor appropriate here to seek to discuss or refute Greg Linville's arguments, the author feels that his article would give little help to the family faced with the dilemma with which we started this chapter.
This text was taken from the book "What the book says about sport" written by Stuart Weir