There was an interesting headline on the back page of Tuesday’s Evening Standard. “I don’t think there is a God. I know there is.” The bold statement was taken from an in-depth interview with the Saracens Rugby coach, South African Brendan Venter, inside the paper. The interview primarily discussed Venter’s views on rugby but also made mention of his devout belief in God (he is a Seventh Day Adventist).
Venter’s refreshingly open stance on his religion is in stark contrast to the majority of British professional sportspersons in Britain. In recent times, only the Scottish rugby player Euan Murray has made any declarations regarding his faith after he declared that he wouldn’t take part in matches on Sundays for religious reasons.
However, openly declaring ones’ religion is widely practiced abroad. The TV cameras which follow the players into the changing rooms after NFL games regularly capture the athletes in group prayer. The Samoan and South African rugby teams shared a group prayer on the pitch after their hard fought 2003 World Cup match. And famously, the Brazilian footballer Kaka removed his playing shirt to reveal a t-shirt with the words “I belong to Jesus” printed on it, after his side had won the European Cup.
Of the above examples, the US is well known as being extremely tolerant towards religion in all walks of society. Brazil is a strongly Catholic country and whilst South Africa isn’t well known for its religion, the island nation of Samoa is. It is important not to read too much into a lack of openly religious British sportspersons. After all, their job is simply to play their sport. It is also important not to suggest that British sportspersons are less religious than their foreign counterparts, but it does hint at a lack of religious tolerance in British society nowadays.