blog | 19.07.21
Five-time Olympic chaplain Ashley Null describes being a chaplain with athletes you support at the Olympics as being like “attending ten funerals and one wedding every day.” He explains “in sport, every person’s thrill of victory comes at the cost of many, many other people’s agony of defeat. That is the nature of competition.”
It is in this brutal pastoral environment that members of the Christians in Sport team have the privilege to minister, not only around major events but week in, week out. They walk alongside these athletes in their moments of indescribable joy and the more common moments of disappointment.
Outside of the major events where there is usually official chaplaincy, supporting potential Olympic athletes has this year involved countless Zoom bible studies, WhatsApps and one member of staff even living in a house with three athletes and being their in-house chef for the British Athletics Championships! Walking with those for whom their job and funding may be on the line if they miss out on qualification is incredibly draining and it has proven so important to keep opening the Bible with these athletes and pointing them to the secure and solid identity they have in Christ.
In the major events there is normally official chaplaincy within the villages for athletes to access. In previous games this has seen Christians in Sport staff members being accredited as official chaplains, reading the Bible with athletes and helping facilitate Sunday services.
In Tokyo however, like everything about the games, this has all changed. Chaplains are not even allowed to enter the village and all communication is online, via an official app, only accessible by a sponsored phone the majority will never open.
Jules Wilkinson has been a chaplain at Rio and regularly meets with a number of Olympians around the world. She observed that the restrictions in place will pose a particular mental strain for those competing:
“In Rio the authorities made a lot of effort to really make it fun in the village to help them switch off. In Tokyo, the organising committee are doing their best but it is very difficult as they want as few people as possible in the village - currently athletes can’t have their coaches or physios in the village with them.”
So what will it look like to support these athletes as they compete in their job in-front of millions of people and have their performance analysed by hundreds of media outlets (something thankfully most of us never need to do)?
It will involve staff members living on Tokyo time for the extent of the Olympics and Paralympics and being present on Zoom calls and on their phones to walk with them in this most intense environment. And it will mean organising an online Sunday Service, accessible only by those competing in Tokyo, to help them step out of the pressures of competing and fix their eyes on Jesus with others who follow Jesus at the games.
It is a real joy and privilege to walk with elite athletes and the unique pressures they face even in different circumstances this year.
You can find our full series of blogs, podcasts and videos around being an elite Christian athlete at Tokyo 2020 on our dedicated, and regularly updated, Tokyo page here.
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Christians in Sport is a UK based charity that aims to reach the world of sport for Christ. We mainly work with sportspeople in competitive and elite sport.
Registered Charity England and Wales 1086570.
Registered Charity Scotland SCO45299.
Company number: 4146081
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