Published in the Catholic Times. With kind permission, we are able to re-produce this article.
By Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, chief executive of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport

Spectators can all too easily forget that those they watch and support are human beings – with all that that word implies. Everyone has their PIES – the physical, intellectual emotional and spiritual dimensions. For the physical to be optimal, the three other dimensions need to be at their best. Hence the growing importance of sports chaplaincy as every club seeks to have the edge on others.

In the UK, Sports Chaplaincy UK – a registered charity – has a dream to see an expression of God’s love and compassion practically demonstrated in every community called Sport. Sports Chaplaincy UK has a big heart and a big vision to embrace the world of sport knowing it is making a positive contribution and impact across each of our home nations.

Established in 1991 as SCORE, resulting from the pioneering work in sports chaplaincy of John Boyers, one of the leaders of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, it has spread from professional football to horse racing, rugby league, rugby union, cricket and athletics.
The charity is an interdenominational organisation equipping and resourcing individuals – predominantly clergy – from a wide variety of Christian backgrounds to serve the world of sport through chaplaincy. It has also been involved with the provision of chaplaincy to major sporting events from the Olympic and Commonwealth Games to world championships in rugby league, rugby union, amateur boxing, and athletics.

The charity (which changed its name to Sports Chaplaincy UK in 2011) works with local organisations and national bodies of sport, a relationship which is exemplified by the provision of support from Racing Welfare, Premier League, Football League Trust and the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Scottish Football Association to name but a few. The community of sport in the UK consists of more than151,000 clubs totalling 25 million men, women and children – what a mission field!
And we, the Church, cannot ignore a community of this size and significance.

Sports chaplains provide pastoral care for the sports community, including athletes, coaches, administrators and their families.
In 2017, Global Summit of Sports Chaplaincy ministries defined sports chaplaincy as “ongoing pastoral and spiritual care, by permission, to those of faith or no faith, for the holistic well-being of all involved in the community of sport”.
Different sports and cultures may adopt the practice of sports chaplaincy but under different titles – sports mentor, life or character coach. For all too many young people, the chaplain becomes the only father figure they may know – and trust.
Sports chaplains come from many different walks of life. Most commonly, the chaplains are ministers or full-time Christian workers, but always chaplaincy work is done without charge or any financial remuneration. Often, sports chaplains to a particular sport are former participants of that sport. This helps the chaplain to not only provide spiritual support and guidance to a player, but gives them the ability to empathise and relate to some of the challenges facing the participant with whom they are ministering.

Since 2010 there has been a growth in the provision of chaplaincy to women’s sport and Paralympic sport. At the JP2F4S we are playing our part in this work and have produced a range of resources called ‘Aim high for All Virtues Programme’ [AVP] that sports chaplains can use to give their young the best chance to make a success in life – and not just on the pitch, pool or court. Virtues, making values visible, enhance character to produce fine
human beings. Of course trust takes time to develop. Initially, at elite level sport, there may be a suspicion that the chaplain is there to be associated with ‘the stars’.
However, time – and a crisis or three – soon shows their true character. If good, it brings great rewards.
The chaplain becomes a part of that team’s family. A chaplain’s role is pastoral and spiritual care in an increasing variety of sporting settings. Mental health prophylactic interventions and swift response to problems noted by staff and team mates, reduction of gambling addictions – all too common among young men with lots of time on their hands and vast sums of money in their bank accounts – are all there waiting for the chaplain to fix.

While there is a shortage of Catholic clergy, there is an opportunity for the laity to become more involved. Already in prisons and hospitals, permanent deacons play a pivotal role; bringing on to the scene, local, user-friendly priests for the celebration of the Mass and reconciliations.
If you have a heart after God, a passion for people and maybe you like sport, I would encourage you, challenge you, and even dare you to become a chaplain, perhaps at your local – even parish – club. You will not be disappointed.
May you be inspired and challenged by what you read. I thank you for your prayerful consideration of support and perhaps even your coming on board this ministry.

For guidance just go to: Sports Chaplaincy UK, Odsal Stadium, Rooley Avenue, Bradford, BD6 1BS. Telephone: 0800 181 4051 or e-mail: