A British university department dedicated to exploring the relationship between sport and spirituality has launched itself internationally by staging an inaugural conference for sports coaches, chaplains and administrators, as well as professional athletes and academics.
More than 70 delegates from 11 countries recently met at the Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality, which is part of York St John University in northern England, to look at the spiritual and moral issues involved in their work - writes Martin Revis for ENI.
Topics discussed included disability events, spirituality in single-handed sailing, Zen and other meditative states in sport, sectarianism in Scottish football, and the impact of traditional African beliefs on the game. Delegates were also invited to abandon armchair discussion and join in a run on the outskirts of the city.
Nick Watson, senior lecturer and founder director of the centre, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world, and one that has an ecumenical and multi-faith remit, told Ecumenical News International that the centre hoped to tackle what US ethicist Albert Spencer has described as the win-at-all cost mentality that fosters disrespect for competitors and society through egotism and an obsessive focus on money.
As a competitive amateur sportsman himself, and one who plays football and snowboards, Watson said the current situation could only be reversed by the "spiritual transformation of the hearts of individual men and women". He believes the York centre can help improve the moral climate within sport by talking with coaches, parents and athletes, by providing lobbying material for those administrating events, such as the 2012 London Olympics, and by taking part in media discussions.
David Hope, former Anglican Archbishop of York and a founding patron of the centre established in 2004, believes it provides, "an opportunity to enable dialogue that integrates personal experience, the academic sports disciplines and the understanding of human purpose and well-being derived from Christianity and other world faiths".
Centre staff co-supervise education and theology undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations at the university. Students are currently writing on a variety of issues including Buddhism in martial arts, the psychological impact of injury, Christian ethics in big business competitive sport, and the role of exercise in enhancing the mental and spiritual well-being of patients suffering from disease.
[With acknowldgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]