She's born to play
She's born to play

This blog was originally published in the summer of 2019 during a summer with a huge amount of top-level women's sport. Read on to hear Rosie's reflections on why the Bible gives the best foundation for celebrating and encouraging women in sport.

What an exciting summer it is for women’s sport!

The Women’s FIFA World Cup may have closed with the Lionesses coming home empty handed, but they are not returning home without an important impact. The hope is that the World Cup’s lasting legacy will be a change in perceptions of and participation in women’s sport.

It was fantastic to have the whole tournament televised, with viewing figures absolutely smashing previous records as 28.1 million, almost half of the UK population, tuned into the tournament on the BBC. Female footballers are becoming household names and inspiring a generation of young sports players, both male and female, as stories are already circulating on the impact of watching these talented women compete at the highest level.

And there is more to come. Women’s sport is continuing to be showcased at the Wimbledon Championships and in the women’s Ashes series. The Netball World Cup will also hit our social media, TV channels and press as it starts in Liverpool this week.

There is currently a great movement in the UK through campaigns such as Change The Game and This Girl Can, which are aiming to make women’s sport visible. The goal in this is to encourage women of all abilities to overcome some of the many barriers which can potentially hinder them from participating in sport.

So, in all this excitement, is this a bandwagon Christians should be jumping on?

Well, it could be argued that the Bible gives us the best foundation for celebrating and encouraging women in sport.

She is born to play

In the first pages of the Bible we see the immense value of human beings.

So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1v27)

Both men and women are made in the image of God - the greatest possible stamp of approval, meaning we are of infinite worth!

How does this play out? Well in Genesis 2 we see that humans can live out the image of God through their talents (Genesis 2:15) and their relationships (Genesis 2:18). See the article here for a fuller outline of this wonderful Biblical truth. How fitting is sport as an arena in which to live this out!

So if you are a woman or a man who has the ability to run, jump, throw, tackle, defend, pass or score… as you go and use those talents you can live out the very image of God! You have not been given those gifts by mistake. You - male or female - are born to play.

Born to play with a difference

We have seen that at the heart of human identity lies the undeniable and important truth that men and women are created equal. But we also see that there is a distinction: male and female He created them. Male and female are created different.

We have different bodies determined by different hormones and genetics, which impacts things like height, weight, muscle mass, body fat and aerobic capacity. It’s no surprise, then, that women’s sport will look different to men’s sport.

But does that mean it matters less? Does that mean it’s less important, less valuable? Does that mean that women shouldn’t be encouraged as much as men to train and compete and be the best they can be?

No! Women too are created in the image of God and are given talents which they can use for His glory.

So let’s play!

So, if you are woman reading this…

  • Go and play! Know that God has given you a body which can image Him as you play. Go and participate and train and compete at any level, and in the words of Eric Liddell “feel [God’s] pleasure”.
  • Know who you are. Know that whatever anyone says, no matter how you look or feel when you’re out there, your identity is so secure. This is because God is pleased for you to bear His own image.
  • Watch all you can! Watch highlight reels of the Women’s World Cup, get hooked on Wimbledon and the Ashes, the Netball World Cup and beyond. Drink it all in and get inspired!

If you are a man reading this…

  • Encourage the women in your life to get involved in sport and stay involved in sport.
  • Think carefully in how you talk about women’s sport. I’m certainly not saying never mention the differences, but be aware that there are numerous barriers which can hinder women from playing sport (for example, body image, social stigma, sexism, pregnancy, periods and lack of funding, to name a few). Have you ever thought about the impact your comments could have on both the men and women who might hear them? Do your words reinforce these barriers and stereotypes or help overcome them?
  • Make space to follow some women’s sport. If you follow a number of men’s sports, can you make space to follow at least one women’s sport alongside this? The more interest there is the more visibility there will be, eventually leading to more funding which enables more women to play professionally. And with more visible female professional athletes, more girls and women will see this and be inspired to get out and play themselves.

Sport is a wonderful gift from God. Let’s celebrate it and go and worship Him with our bodies in sport!

Rosie Woodbridge

Rosie works with students in London and the South East and delivers guest events for female sportspeople. She runs for Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets Athletics Club and is a student worker at Inspire Saint James Clekenwell Church.

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