Kevin Naiqama, Captain of Fiji’s Rugby League gave an emotional thanks to God following his sides surprise victory against New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final.
What do we make of this? The issue is covered in some depth by my colleague Bob Schindler in his book ‘Does God care who wins?’ and in his recent blog ‘Should we pray to win?’, but what should the chaplains response be? And should they discourage or encourage such public thanks to Jesus?
I was once watching an Africa Cup Semi-Final, as the two teams prepared for the penalty shoot out, opposing players were on their knees calling for God’s help….one of them was disappointed. It shows with simplicity that God’s answer to your prayer will sometimes be a yes and sometimes be a no. In that perhaps an athletes response to His response gives an indication of whether their identity is wrapped up in victory or whether they appreciate as Arthur Ashe stated ‘Success is a journey, not a destination.’
On the one hand I love to see athletes giving thanks to God for their victory, their boast after all is in the Lord 1 Cor 1:31. But if that is all we hear from athletes then we may start to receive an imbalanced view of God, that he only backs winners, and that the prayers of the losers counted for nothing. In politically correct cultures we also need to ensure as chaplains that those making such public affirmations have the maturity to handle the scrutiny that comes with it.
In contrast, I was thrilled to see following Brazil suffering their heaviest defeat, 7-1 to Germany in 2014 World Cup, Brazil star players Neymar & Luiz on their knees giving thanks to God. It is a rare sight in sporting battle, but showed a window to the spiritual maturity of the two players that they could give thanks even on one of the worst days of their careers.
As chaplains I do not believe it is our role to coerce players into public declarations of their faith, but nor should we deter them from doing so. Our primary focus is their pastoral and spiritual care and supporting them to recognise God with them through victory, defeat, injury and retirement. It is our job to ensure that they take care with such statements and ensure its done out of a genuine love and appreciation. It is our responsibility to help these athletes further onto maturity in their walk.
It was great to hear Fiji’s captain giving thanks to Jesus, I loved the heart in which he did it. And I pray he has the strength to do that throughout the ups and downs of his sporting career.
*Please note, the above video does not actually include the portion of Kevin Naiqama giving thanks to God, but if you are in the UK you can access a BBC version of the interview here.