At the end of last month I was writing an article for our church magazine just as England were struggling to save the Third Test against Pakistan at the Oval. Alistair Cook, who has had a run of bad scores but he turned this around and scored a century, although this wasn’t enough to save England from defeat. Andrew Strauss, his opening partner, and the team captain, was involved in a interesting incident in the First Innings. He appeared to have been caught behind – at least that’s what the Pakistan team thought, along with the commentators who saw the ball deviate as it passed Strauss’s bat, before it went through to the wicketkeeper. However, and more importantly, the umpire gave the England captain ‘Not Out’. This series is using the Referral System in which either team came ask for a decision to be referred to an umpire in the stands who has the use of a TV monitor which shows a recording of the game. The TV umpire gave Strauss ‘Out’ and so he had to go.
The majority of commentators and pundits were agreed that Andrew Strauss had embarrassed himself in not ‘walking’, in that he must have known that he had hit the ball and been caught. I wrote at the time that it had struck me that there are still some occasions in professional sport – and golf and snooker are other examples – when fair play is still expected. We might compare this to soccer when, after the game, players admit to conceding ‘goals’ not spotted by the referee and scoring goals having used a hand to guide the ball. No one seriously expects any soccer player to do anything other than try to win by any means, fair or foul.
Since I wrote that piece, England have won the fourth and final Test Match, but the result was of little consequence following the furore over the allegations that some members of the Pakistan team had taken bribes to bowl ‘no balls’ with the intention of allowing gamblers to defraud bookmakers. Now, bookmakers tend not to be high up the list of people with whom one’s sympathies lie, but it undermined one of the fundamental principles of sport, which is that both sides are trying. In other words, in this, if in nothing else, are sportspeople to be trusted?
I say, ‘if in nothing else’, because, professional sportspeople are not always known for their strong moral compass. The latest scandal to hit a British sportsman, is the revelation that, more than a year ago, Wayne Rooney used the services of a prostitute. There were questions asked about whether Rooney would be psychologically ready for the big game against Switzerland, but he played as well as ever. There wouldn’t have been any likelihood that the dressing room would have ostracised him as he was in ‘good’ company, with a number of his colleagues having been in the tabloid pages for ‘playing away from home’. One of Wayne’s relatives was quoted as saying that she was disappointed in him … it was embarrassing that he had to pay for sex when other footballers had girls throwing themselves at them.
The whole role model debate cropped up again and it has been suggested that it is unfair for footballers to be expected to be role models. The response seems to be that if they take the money from the lifestyle magazines and sponsors who play on the image of a family man, then they must ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’.
A vicar has just been jailed for four years for performing sham marriages to enable failed asylum seekers to stay in the country. The motive, it seems, was not altruism, but greed and he received the maximum sentence. Here was someone who had failed to live the life that was expected of him and about which he preached to others.
This was a high profile example of moral failure, but lesser failures can detract from the message that any Christian seeks to share. At the end of this month many Christians will be inviting people to church as part of Back to Church Sunday. I suspect that sharing our faith will be easier the more consistent we are in following the way of Jesus.