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If I had to choose between my wife and my putter... well, I’d miss her.

Gary Player

Religion and the rise of sport in England

Return to the book list for titles beginning with 'r'.

Hugh Mcleod, OUP, 2022 . ISBN 9780192859983

An outstanding book which documents the interactions between sport and religion from the 19th century to the present day. On this first page, the author makes the interesting statement that “both religion and sport have been very willing to make use of each other”. He also suggests that the growth of sports chaplaincy may suggest that sport needs religion as much as religion needs sport. While the book is essentially about Christianity, there are references particularly to Judaism and other religions

The relationship between sport and Christianity is complex with Christians often seeming to be against it for what the author calls humanitarian, Puritan and Sabbatarian reasons as well questioning whether sport was a good use of time compared with preaching the gospel. At the same time churches were “contributing to the national passion for sport by forming clubs and presenting Christian youth with sporting role models”.

The book notes four major areas of tension between the worlds of religion were emerging by the 1890s were: impact of professionalism, the persistence of gambling, use of time (including Sunday) and the fear that sport was becoming a new religion. It is interesting to read McLeod’s take on the influence of Muscular Christianity on how Christians viewed sport. The author suggests that “perhaps the longest lasting legacy of Muscular Christianity is the idea that sport makes you a better person”, adding that this was something that the pioneers like Thomas Hughes never claimed.

McLeod raises the question of churches’ motivation – opportunistic (to attract or retain people) or passionate belief in sport’s value. Then there is the eternal question of whether you had to attend church in order to be allowed to play for the church team!

There is an informed and comprehensive account of the development of evangelical engagement with sport through organizations like Christians in Sport, sports chaplaincy and a “revival of church sport” during the past 50 years..

The book includes a number of informative sections on topics like:

Sport in the mission field

The development of women’s sport


Sunday sport

Church sport and church teams

Sportsmen services

Sport and mission

A must-read book for any for anyone interested in the relationship between sport and Christianity.

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