Canteen Worker

First Grader
When God plays a winning hand


April 22, 2006

AARON Baddeley did it for Jesus, Darren Beadman thanked the Lord.

The Easter weekend successes of Baddeley and Beadman were well-timed reminders of the number of committed Christians who dedicate their high-profile sporting careers to God.

Some seem odd partnerships.

Arch-sledging Test cricketer Matthew Hayden and rugby international Mat Rogers don't appear conspicuously Christian, while jockey Beadman has been criticised by some church members for participating in a sport dominated by gambling.

Brisbane premiership player Shaun Hart and Melbourne coach Neale Daniher are among the AFL's Christians, while former Cronulla enforcer Jason Stevens was seen as the unofficial leader of rugby league's God squad.

And then there are the fallen sporting Christians such as Hansie Cronje and Gary Ablett.

Others such as Baddeley grew up in a religious household and he takes his overt faith with him on a golf tour well populated by practising Christians.

When he lined up the putt to win the Heritage Classic tournament in the US on Easter Sunday, Baddeley told himself, "This is for you Jesus". Earlier in the day, he spoke at the Harbour Town Golf Links' Easter service held next to the 18th green.

The day before, Beadman won his second AJC Derby at Randwick and said to the crowd, "Thanks a lot and thanks to the Lord".

Beadman quit racing for two years in the late 1990s to study for the ministry, but was drawn back to the racetrack. "The Lord planted me here to be a jockey. Everything I do is as a representative of the Kingdom of God," he said on his return to racing.

Christianity currently plays a significant role in Australian sport: 140 chaplains are in place in more than 30 sports, all co-ordinated by an organisation called Sports Chaplaincy Australia.

"There was an age when sports and spirituality didn't really mix," said Cameron Butler, chaplain of AFL club Melbourne and director of SCA.

"The church didn't want to have much to do with sport or didn't see much of a place for it.

"But today the church sees the benefits of sports for kids and society as a whole and encourages that."

Penrith rugby league captain Tony Puletua is a Christian in one of the toughest and most violent of sports, and which has an off-field culture that would at times be described as anything but Christian.

But he says his teammates respect his faith and he doesn't try to convert them.

"We're all grown men, we all should take responsibility for our own actions. There are guys don't go to church, I respect that," Puletua said. "They understand everyone has their beliefs, we all respect each other."

Many athletes such as Puletua and his former Penrith teammate Joe Galuvao turn to God after living wayward youths, while Olympic swimming gold medallist Duncan Armstrong is a recent convert.

Rogers was introduced to God by his former Cronulla teammate Stevens.

Former Australian rugby captain Nick Farr-Jones is another devout Christian who admits it was tough to adhere to his faith while in the grip of international football. "Sometimes on tour I did things that probably aren't seen as Christian," he admitted.

Others found it hard to choose Christianity over temptation.

Disgraced South African cricket captain Cronje was a committed Christian throughout the period in which he lied, cheated, took the cash and tried to recruit teammates to throw games.

Even the man nicknamed God – AFL great Ablett – is a tarnished Christian.

But, overall, most athletes talk of the peace and direction their spirituality gives them in their chosen sport and, indeed, their lives.

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