A. What is a Chaplain?
Many institutions recognize that they need to provide for their members’ spiritual needs. People in hospitals and prisons or on military bases and ships cannot get to a normal church congregation. Students at schools and universities face common challenges in growing up and have many questions about religious faith. Consequently, all these different kinds of institutions often set aside a place of worship for their members and appoint people to provide pastoral support for them. Typically, this place of worship is called a chapel, and the person who is in charge of the chapel is the chaplain. Chaplains usually lead services, offer religious instruction and give spiritual guidance.
B. Sports chaplains
Over the past 50 years specialist sports chaplaincy has developed. There is no one correct way of being a sports chaplain. There are many different models and roles. These include chaplain to a club or team (football, rugby, baseball etc), chaplain to an event (Olympics etc), chaplain to a country’s national team in a particular sport or chaplain to a sport (tennis, golf etc). In some situations (eg USA NFL, NBA) a chaplain would normally conduct a formal chapel service on match day for players and officials. In the UK, for example, this would be unheard of and chaplains operate at the much more informal pastoral one-to-one level.
C. What is an Accredited Chaplain at a Major Sporting Event?
Local Organizing Committees of major international sporting events recognize that they must also provide for the spiritual needs of their participants. Very far from home, people who take part in major sporting events have left their usual pastoral support behind. However, attending a church in the host city is impractical. They often do not speak the local language, and their training and competition schedule can make it very difficult to get to a church outside the Athletes’ Village. They also face pressures unique to elite competition that without special training and much experience even the best local pastors would not know how even to begin to address.
Nothing has made more clear the need for spiritual support inside the Village itself than tragedies during the Olympics such as the massacre of the Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 or the death of the Georgian bobsledder at Vancouver 2010. In such cases chaplains can offer a listening ear and play a supportive role to those in grief and shock.
At many major sport events, the local organizing committee appoints a number of chaplains with official or accredited status, giving them access to the Athletes’ Village or team hotels. Chaplains may staff a “Religious Centre” and provide Worship Services, Bible Studies and prayer meetings as well as providing pastoral sport to athletes and officials.
Typically, a Games’ chaplaincy team will include representatives from at least the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. The Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh faiths, amongst others, are also sometimes included. The chaplaincy service is multi-faith, but not inter-faith. That means that services are offered separately for each religious faith; there are no combined faith or multi-faith services. Each faith simply offers in the Village the same kind of worship and guidance that an athlete would receive back home.
The number of chaplains appointed and the balance between religious faiths as between local and international chaplains varies from event to event and is at the sole discretion of the local organizing committee.
For an event such as the Olympic Games there should ideally be 30 Protestant chaplains, with at least two-thirds of these being from different regions around the world. One of the roles of the MECC is also to advise local organizing committees about chaplain selection. We recruit, train and recommend highly qualified international Protestant Games’ chaplains for them to consider appointing.