Sports and Religion, What Happens When God Lets You Down.


June 4, 2015 by kittynh

Thank you to my friend Nigerian journalist Nelson Dafe for this article showing the tie in between sports and religious belief.  Sports appears to be riddled with winners thanking a supreme being for their victory, all the while carrying a rabbit foot in their back left pocket.  My own sister in law will watch Pittsburgh Steeler football games only from her “lucky chair” while wearing the “lucky tshirt”.  Despite all her superstition, the Steelers do not win the Super Bowl every year!

Nelson Dafe (Nelson would enjoy hearing from readers of this blog post, especially his fellow journalists.  Please feel free to contact him at
In the build up to the boxing bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather ,which was eventually won by the latter, there was a heavy support and sympathy flowing in for the challenger,Pacquiao. In Pacquiao was seen an individual who combined those very essential ingredients that guarantee the love of many a sport follower;talent and humility. The Filipino’s easygoing outward appearance and charming smile often masked his pugilistic ferocity and contrasted starkly with the bling-bling flashing, money flaunting and unabashedly flamboyant and narcissistic persona of Maywheather.
Then, of course, there was the issue of religious faith as espoused so proudly by the Filipino as he prepared to take on the American. When, during the weigh-in session that preceded the fight- Pacman showed the TV cameras what was written in the back of his shirt which read “ALL GLORY AND HONOR BELONG TO GOD”, he won the hearts of many in Christendom.
So he should win every time? No, for the faithful it's up to God to decide.

So he should win every time? No, for the faithful it’s up to God to decide.

However,not a few are of the opinion that prayer or religious belief does not have any real impact on the result of sporting competitions.Quite predictably,those of no religious faith dismissed Pacquiao’s open clinging to God in the days leading to the fight. The prefight criticisms of Pacquiao’s penchant for for flaunting God turned into utter mockery of Pacquiao, as the atheist-leaning community saw one more proof to justify their belief that religious beliefs can’t save an inferior sportsman from defeat.
So, will this defeat make Pacquiao to begin to doubt whether God was really on his side in the fight against Maywheather? Is it likely that a loss in a sporting competition can seriously usher in a spirit of religious doubt in the minds of a faith-loving sportsman? The pat answer is no. But why not?
In a 2010 piece for the Times of London, Matthew Syed a top journalist, discussed the power of faith in a sportsperson’s career. He argued brilliantly that there is a psychological power in the belief in a supreme power working with you or for you in becoming an overcomer of ridicule challenges in sports. Syed wrote: “The idea that the Creator is on your side, guiding your footsteps, taking a personal interest in your troubles, deriving pleasure from your victories, providing solace in your defeats, orchestrating the world such that, in the words of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, ‘All things work together for good to those who love God’ – all this must have a dramatic impact on the efficacy of a sportsman, or indeed anyone else.”
Training and perhaps luck is what wins fights.  But the psychological advantage of belief is important also.

Training and perhaps luck is what wins fights. But the psychological advantage of belief is important also.

Those of us who have closely observed the sporting rise of some very religious people would have seen how much faith,(that belief that you can’t possibly fail when you have Jesus), uplifts the sportsperson and gives him or her an extra fillip of that core ingredient of success called confidence;a quality which saw The Greatest Muhammed Ali successfully take on a fierce and feared George Foreman in one of the greatest heavyweight boxing fights in history,winning against all odds.
But as we well know, religious faith doesn’t guarantee a win in sports. Many,despite the strong conviction that they are divinely favored to win, have ended up losing sporting contests. Pacquiao would not have been too naive to know this going into his bout with Maywheather. The thing is, most strongly-religious sportsmen constantly engage in some kind of double-think. On the one hand, they see themselves as divinely favored to win any given contest. But, at the same time they take the view that a result is in God’s hands, given them a psychological reassurance when a contest doesn’t pan out as prayed for. They just they take solace in the fact that a particular defeat was sanctioned by God to pave way for an unseen greater good. So rather than allowing a negative sporting outcome to make them despair to the point of questioning their faith, they find a strong reassurance in defeat by all the more embracing their religious conviction.
While they present a public face of total confidence in their faith to see them through, they inwardly rely on the faith to see them through if and when defeat comes. A lot can be disputed about the theological soundness or truth of a sportsman’s belief. But as Syed pointed out in noting the sporting success of Muslim Mohammed Ali and former triple jump world record holder Jonathan Edward (the christian-turned atheist who credited his faith for his success in athletics):”if Ali is praying to Allah and Edwards to Jehovah, and if these two men believe in contradictory theologies, and if both are reaping benefits, it must be the belief itself, not its truth, that matters.”
It is this religious conviction that may likely continue to serve Pacquiao or any other religious person in coming to terms with, and rising up, from a huge setback in life no matter what their expectation of victory through God was.

2 thoughts on “Sports and Religion, What Happens When God Lets You Down.

  1. Reblogged this on SOCCER BREEZE and commented:
    What most Sports Journalist have been running away from just got dissected by the big & bold Nelson Dafe

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