Football And Religion

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
5th February 2010

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It was nearly thirty years ago, so I cannot remember the details accurately but the local primary school P&C meeting ran something along the following lines.

“There is no agreement amongst the community as to which football code to follow.  Some want Soccer others League or Union and still others want Aussie Rules.  So we, the staff, have decided that the school will not play any football this winter.”

“But all the boys like League, surely we can have one team for them.”

“Some of the parents think it’s too rough and are worried about injuries.”

“What about we change to soccer?”

“There are injuries in soccer too.”

“But this school has always played League and nobody was injured last year.”

“Well, we have a couple of families who have moved from Victoria and they want to have Aussie Rules, and we can’t provide everything.”

“So why not provide for the majority and keep going like we always have?”

“That wouldn’t be fair to the ones who want Aussie Rules.  So it is better to have no football at all.  That is fair for everybody.”

“It’s not fair, it’s stupid!”

“That’s the only way we can treat everybody the same.  We don’t have any football - so nobody misses out.”

“You mean everybody misses out!  My boys and their mates will miss having football for sport.  They’re all mad keen on footie.”

“Studies have shown that in sporting development the girls are the same as boys in primary school and so we have to offer sports that both boys and girls can participate in together.”

“I don’t want my girl playing football.”

“No, we won’t be offering it, so your girl won’t have to.”

“But my boys want to play footie.  They’ll be so disappointed.  They enjoyed it last year.  Do we have to integrate the sports?  Can’t the boys have football and the girls play something else, they like?”

“Girls can play football just as well as boys.”

“I don’t believe that, but if it is true then why not have football for all who want to play?”

“Football is not really suitable for children.  It is too violent and it encourages violence in the playground.  The staff think there are more suitable games for boys and girls to play together.”

“You mean the staff do not like football.  How many of them have ever played it?”

“That’s an irrelevance.  The staff are all professional teachers and will coach whatever sport is considered appropriate for the age and development of the children.”

“Has this decision got anything to do with the last male staff member leaving?  Now that Mr X has left the school, does that mean there are no men left to coach the boys in footie?”

“No, it has nothing to do with that at all!  Our staff are all professional educationalists and could coach football if needed, but they feel that we have to reduce the level of violence in the playground and teach the children how to play quieter, less anti-social games together.”

“You mean games for girls.”

“Not just for the girls, the boys can be taught to enjoy them, also.” 

“So there is no place for what boys like in school?”

“No, that’s not true.  Studies have shown that boys and girls can have the same interests, if the environment in which they are raised encourages cooperation and removes anti-social behaviour fed by competitiveness and physical violence.  Furthermore, there are some boys who are very good students but do not like football.  They feel alienated and left out by the social status of football in the playground.  School is an educational institution and it is a shame when some of the best scholars feel they have no place in the school.”

“You just don’t like football!”

“No, it’s just that there is no agreement on which football the community wants, and we cannot offer them all, so it is better to have none.”

“When did you last go to a footie game?”

“My personal preference has nothing to do with it.  It is purely a professional educational issue.  Football has no real place in an educational institution.”

Strangely, it was almost the same argument that I was experiencing about the place of religion in the university, where as a chaplain I saw Christians and Christianity being continually marginalised.  “There are too many religions, and so nobody can be catered for lest others are disadvantaged.”  For many, religion was deemed to be anti-social and anti-feminist, the staff had no competence in it, people in powerful positions did not like it, and felt that it was not what a university is about - so “better to have none than any”.  Of course this had nothing to do with personal opinions or private prejudices!  It also flew in the face of students’ widespread interest in religion and the place of religion in history, literature, music, culture and society.

It is much the same today in the media, politics and public debate and wherever secularists are given sufficient power to censor others’ opinions in a “free and open society”.