Imagine a churchgoer and a sports fan get out of bed on the day their two organisations will be assembling. What do they have in common?
Both spring out of bed with songs in their hearts. At last the week long wait is over. Today both will do what they are really living for. Today they meet and mingle with their kind. They look forward to hearty greetings and hugs. They will chat, gossip and laugh with people whose beliefs, biases and tastes are similar to theirs.
Both dress up for the occasion. Churchgoers prefer formal dressing while sport fans go for smart casuals. In both camps the decoration of the face is important. Female churchgoers carefully paint their faces with lipstick, eyebrow pencils, eye shadows, mascara and powder. Similar care and dexterity is displayed by sports fans. Only colours of their teams are good enough to grace their faces.
Later, on the streets churchgoers proclaim their faith through their glowing faces and the Bibles they wield. Exuberance separates sports fans from the rest of humanity. They show allegiance to their teams by scarves and other team regalia. Just in case, horror of horrors, some observers may confuse them with a rival team, sports fans fly their team flags on the vehicles they travel in. They blow horns and shout the praises of their teams.
At their different assembly points, churchgoers and sports fans are required to stand or sit in an orderly manner. From rows, they watch, listen and participate in the day’s proceedings. Most congregants and fans demand to be on the same spot they were the previous week. Many a quarrel has erupted after someone has tried to invade another’s space. Seats or standing spots are private property and therefore not transferable.
Church or sports stadium, a passive presence is frowned upon. Everyone is expected to be lively. Neither side disappoints. When the pastor walks up to the pulpit the entire congregation stands up and claps hands. Sports fans shout and whistle as their heroes enter the stadium. In short, church or stadium, excitement expected.
When moved by the pastor, congregants shout: ‘hallelujah, praise the Lord, go deeper pastor, and amen.’ They raise and wave their hands. Perhaps to encourage the Holy Spirit to enter them, some tightly close their eyes, contort faces and murmur with passion. Often they stomp the floor to utterly destroy the imagined Satan under their feet.
Like churchgoers, sports fans delight in raising their hands as they root for their teams. At football matches at Barbourfields stadium, Bulawayo, one often hears the animated cry: ‘Tshis’ ubhare! (Roast the bugger!).’ Fans stomp the floor to pulverise the imagined rivals under their feet. Dear reader, haven’t you heard about this stomping of the floor before?
After investing so much money, time and energy on looks, churchgoers and fans would feel cheated in no-one notices them. Several attention grabbing tactics are employed. Late arrival and then making a grand entrance when everyone is seated is one tactic. Another is frequent visits to the toilet. To try and draw the attention of television cameras, sports fans make a lot of noise and perform energetic dances.
Indeed music and dance play important parts in both groups. Emotions of joy, solidarity and hatred for the opposition find expression in music and dance. Music entertains and skyrockets morale. It convinces all that they are the chosen ones and victory is certain.
A feeling that ‘no-one can stop us’ often seizes the singers. The inspired singing and enthusiastic dancing at Pentecostal and Zionist churches are similar to those of sports fans at the noisy stands. Similarly, the laid back support of fans at VIP stands resembles the restrained singing at most old school churches.
What else do churches and the world of sports have in common?
Scandals! Yes, scandals have dogged both church and the sporting fraternity almost from the time the two came into being. One is spoiled for choice when citing past scandals in both camps. As early as 309 AD the Catholic Church supreme council threatened to defrock church authorities who sexually abused boys. To this day the abuse of children persists. Every denomination has its share of sex scandals. Show me a denomination where women and children have never been sexually abused and I will show you the first fly that flew and landed on the sun.
Compiling the sex scandals in sports would require a life time. Suffice to say the list is as long as that of various churches.
Still on scandals, both church and sporting bodies have an encyclopaedia of financial scandals. Friends, are not the activities of the two camps more similar than different?
Perhaps we need not marvel at the similarities. Church and sports are two sides of the same coin – the coin of people’s group activities outside work. No one needs to decide which of the two groups one belongs. If you own a coin, both sides of the coin are yours. If you are a human being, you can belong to both activities. You can stomp Satan at church in the morning and later stomp your imagined opponents at the sports stadium.