14 August 2012

Olympics and Sports as a Religion

Sub tuum. 

IT is an unfortuante fact of the modern Olympics that, according to their founder the Baron de Coubertin, they constitute a religion. (Read more in this BBC article.) I must confess to not being fully aware of this until very recently, but one must take the founder of the games at his word as to his intention. Furthermore, the various ceremonies at the games lend credence to the idea that they are indeed a religion. How, then, can any Christian participate in the games in good faith if the games themselves are part of a non-Christian religious activity? It is a question worth pondering.

In a more broad sense, it seems that God and the Christian Faith have been replaced by the religion of sports. I am entirely in favor of sports as a means of personal growth and development. Sports programs in schools, for example, are very valuable. And, there is nothing inherently wrong with being a professional athlete, either. It is the level of obsession to which fans (short for "fanatics") have taken their interest in the sport that is troubling. We have all heard no doubt about the football fan sitting in church listening to the game on a radio with an earpiece. There is plenty of truth to such stories. Football indeed has come to dominate Sundays during the season.

Actually, it is worse than that. Liturgical seasons have been replaced with sport seasons. The sports fans can easily tell you what games are in season, but would be hard pressed to tell if it was Advent, Trinitytide, Lent, etc. Fridays are for high school football rather than Friday devotions. Saturdays are for college football rather than remembrance of Our Lady. For the fans, Sundays are not centered around the principal Holy Mass of the week and one's own spiritual development, but rather around professional football.

Household decorations for the fan are more likely than not based on sports. One would be hard pressed to find a relic or a prayer corner in the truly devout fan's house, for there simply would be no room. Even if there is some religious symbology in the house, it is dwarfed by the sports icons. A ball or a jersey signed by a legendary athlete becomes the fan's own form of holy relic. Icons of the Saints are replaced with photos of sports favorites. There is nothing wrong, of course, with having sports memorabilia. It is simply a matter of what takes priority.

Pews sit empty in the great churches of the land while fans fight over thousand dollar seats at the sports stadiums. Sometimes they will even camp out to get tickets, even though they would likely find it quite an inconvenience to attend a vigil. Countless hours are spent effortlessly by the true fan, yet they are likely to have a convenient excuse when asked to watch one hour with our Lord at a Holy Hour.

Sport has long since joined money as the new religion of modern America. If the Olympics are to be considered the pinnacle of amateur sports achievement, then it seems only right that their founder openly considered them to constitute a religion.