Commonwealth Games: Discipleship Down Under

Date posted: 13/06/18

 Commonwealth Games: Discipleship Down Under


Christians in Sport staff support more than 400 elite athletes as they look to live for Jesus in the world where He has placed them. This support takes our team to various locations around the UK and further afield - including Australia! Staff members Graham Daniels and Jules Wilkinson (pictured) were among the 10 international Christian chaplains at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast where they built on work happening all year round.

Research shows that there are more than 10 million people playing in clubs and teams in the UK alone. We do not value the life of a professional sportsperson more than an amateur one, so why do we invest so much in terms of staff and hours in such a small number of people?

Nowadays, the demands of elite sport on time and travel mean that to reach the top level, Christian athletes will often have grown up outside the church. But the Bible tells us that like all followers of Jesus, they need teaching and fellowship to help them live out their faith. By supporting elite sportspeople all year round, and by serving as chaplains at major events like the Commonwealth Games, we are effectively bringing church to them.

Elite sport is also a profession where you continually have to prove yourself to get selected, where your salary or funding is dependent on maintaining extremely high levels of performance and often where you’re intensely scrutinised by the media and fans. This pressure means it is very easy for your identity to become bound up in how you perform and what others think of you. Therefore, much of the time Graham and Jules spent at the Games was in opening God’s word with Christian athletes, helping them take their eyes off themselves and focus on Christ.

Commonwealth Games: Discipleship Down Under


Jules said: “The reason major events have chaplaincy is that they want to provide whatever the athletes have at home to help them train and compete. If you’re a Christian used to going to church, they want to have that provision in the village for you, so you can be helped to achieve your best in competition. We were not there as social workers or sports psychologists, but chaplains helping Christian athletes live out their faith.”

At the majority of events, it’s up to the local organising committee what provision they make for chaplaincy. Most will look to have representation from the five majority world religions. At Gold Coast 2018, the Christian chaplains were based in the Multi-faith Centre in the middle of the Athletes Village.

Back Pages magazine summer 2018

This article appears in the Summer 2018 issue of Back Pages. To read the rest of the magazine, click here.

Reflecting on the Games, Jules and Graham were able to praise God for many highlights.

“It was wonderful to see the Lord build on the existing relationships that we had with the athletes and to be able to support them through adversity and joy,” said Jules.

“One thing that Christian athletes love is to meet other Christians competing at their level. In one team event, we were able to hold a gathering before the competition started for any Christians who wanted to come. It was wonderful to see a number from different countries meeting as sisters in Christ the day before they were competing as hard as they could against each other.”

Graham added: “Sometimes teams wanted a Bible study and we were able to provide that too.”

The Games, however, were not without their funny moments. Graham said: “Everyone had their uniform. Ours was yellow and made us look a bit like pizza delivery people, which led to a lot of banter, but fortunately our takeaway services were never called upon!”

Commonwealth Games: Discipleship Down Under


Graham and some of his fellow chaplains modelling their 'pizza delivery' uniform

One of the roles of chaplains is to provide a safe space for people to be quiet and to offer expertise and support when tragedy strikes. This proved the case after 15 players and staff from the Humboldt Broncos ice hockey team were killed in a road accident.

Jules explained: “The whole of Canada was mourning this tragedy and the Canadian chaplain was able to support the athletes and officials at the Games by setting up a book of condolence.”

A big encouragement was the relationships that Graham and Jules were able to develop with officials. “It’s not just the athletes that are under pressure, but the team managers too, so it’s important that they trust what we’re doing,” said Graham.

The opportunities Graham and Jules had at Gold Coast 2018 have proved a real springboard to the work supporting track and field athletes at Diamond League meetings this summer.

Do join us in praying for more chances to serve at major sporting events in the future.