Sunday, April 12, 2009

Religious Groups Want Sport-Free Easter Sundays: Right or Wrong?

Christian-based religious groups in Britain have launched a campaign to try and urge the Government into using Sunday trading laws to prevent sporting fixtures from being on Easter Sunday in the future.
"We feel that Church-founded football clubs should remember their Christian roots," said the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.
Concerns were raised last week by Birmingham Church leaders, who wrote to the Premier League over concerns Easter Sunday services would be disrupted because of road closures and safety fears, as Everton travelled to Birmingham to take on Aston Villa in a crucial Premiership fixture.

Easter Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar and local church leaders were concerned that the added problem of 45,000 people descending on Birmingham for a football match could cause safety problems for the thousands of church-goers expected to worship in Britain's second city.

However, police chiefs and officials at Aston Villa said the following: "We believe we have done what we can to ensure that those attending places of worship close to the ground are not inconvenienced in any way." They added that they had also paid for extra policing on the day.

But Dr. Sentamu said the matches should not be happening in the first place and asked the clubs, "did you forget your history?"

Aston Villa Church Bible Class formed a football team in 1874 and the members of St. Domingo's Bible Class began playing football at Stanley Park in Liverpool in 1884.

These inauspicious beginnings set the scene for two of the most famous teams in world football, and Liverpool and Aston Villa have both had important links with Christian faiths since their humble beginnings.

Likewise, Manchester City and United were both places where people from Protestant and Catholic faiths could support their teams side by side, without their religious differences getting in the way.

Dr. Sentamu, the former Bishop of Birmingham, said there was a "time and a place" for football, which was not on Easter Sunday.

He added, "do not think...22 people chasing a ball around is all life is about."

He spoke of the Clubs' church foundations and attacked the commercial nature of the sport, adding that income from television has become the all-important thing that clubs now desire.

He said, "What was local enjoyment and exercise has lost all meaning; they have become businesses and that is not on."

The Rev. Andy Jolley of Aston and Nechells in Birmingham, who wrote to the Premier League last week, said he acted despite being a Villa season ticket-holder.

Jolley told the BBC: "Don't get me wrong, I am a football supporter... but I would like to see this day particularly kept free from football.

"Excluding Christmas, there are 363 other days of the year when we can play football." He said residents and Villa fans had told him the games were inappropriate, "taking place on Easter Sunday."

He continued by saying, "Obviously Aston Villa's roots are in the Methodist Church and I think their constitution originally forbade them to play on Good Friday particularly, because it was a holy day.

"It seems very clear the reasons it is taking place is because the television people want it to be taking place on this day."

Jolley said the focus should simply be on Easter Day being "really special."

Dr. Sentamu added, "The amazing thing about England is that we are not trying to force religion down people's throats, but there is a culture, a tradition, a way of behaving."

In response to the religious leaders' concerns, the Premier League moved the Aston Villa vs. Everton starting time from 14.00 to 15.00, and the Manchester City vs. Fulham match was moved forward to 16.10 from 16.00.

But it does beg the question: Has sport become too important? Isn't there a place where sport and religious beliefs can play side-by-side? Surely, the Premier League can understand the Church's views and move the matches away from Easter Sunday?

Or is their a wider question? Is it wrong for religion to ask such things?

Personally, I don't see the real problem with moving the matches to Saturday, the more traditional starting time for football matches. But part of that is that I prefer my football to be on a Saturday.

I can see the Church's view and I respect it. At the same time, I can see the Premier League's view, as Sunday is a very lucrative time slot for live soccer.

So who is right in this debate?

twitter / WillieGannon