"It matters a great deal who is going to win, but not at all who won"
Sports, Religion and Disability
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Edited by Nick J. Watson and Andrew Parker, London: Routledge, 2015. ISBN 13: 978-08-0-415-71415-0The book consists of 14 chapters, all free-standing essays, which have previously been published in two issues of The Journal of Disability & Religion.
The aims of the book are stated as to provide:
(i) Original empirical research and scholarship on the spiritual and religious
aspects of physical and intellectual disability sport;
(ii) Practical recommendations for those working with the disabled in sport and leisure contexts;
(iii) A critique of the “cult of normalcy” that marginalizes the disabled.
As I have previously reviewed one of the journal issues
Journal of Disability & Religion. Volume 18, Issue 1, 2014 I will concentrate this review on the articles which were originally published in Volume 18, Issue 2, 2014).
For me the best chapter was Meet My Exes: Theological Reflections on Disability and Paralympic Sport: A Continuum of Ephemeral Deaths and Eternal Resurrection by Stuart Braye.
The essay describes the author’s account of the accident which made him an amputee and how becoming a Christian changed his perspective on disability and which leads him to develop a practical theology of disability.
With regard to relating his faith to his disability, he writes that “becoming a Christian meant that I had to adjust from a strong and, at times, all-consuming, identity as a disabled person”.
I am not convinced that he really understands disability sport deeply. His dichotomy between “the ideals of disability sport” and “everything that happens in mainstream sport” is very unhelpful in a context of increasing integration of para-sport with non-disabled sport.
A disturbing aspect of the article is the author’s experience of working in the administration of disability sport alongside non-disabled people who “fell into the trap of reinforcing negative stereotypes about disabled people”.
The chapter is a powerful statement of the experience of a disabled athlete which raises some very important questions.
I was less convinced by Amos Yong’s Running the (Special) Race: New (Pauline) Perspectives on Disability and Theology of sport which aims to pose the question: “What if St. Paul were to address the commissioners of the Olympics, Paralympics, and Special Olympics, simultaneously?”
In a chapter entitled Researching Religion, Disability, and Sport: Reflections and Possibilities, the editors present a brief overview of the status of qualitative research within the context of practical theology around the relationship between religion, disability and sport.
Other chapters cover the experience of spirituality and disability sport for British Military personnel traumatically Injured in Iran and Afghanistan, Sport-based empowerment of people living with HIV/AIDS in Zambia and an examination of Lance Armstrong’s “Illness” narrative.
It is really encouraging to see Christian writers engaging with disability sport.