By Stephen Liggins, Anglican Media Sydney
"Professional athletes are no different to everybody else basically, they're just much better at sport than we are," says the Rev Andrew Wingfield-Digby. "They have the same needs and the same temptations and the same struggles as all of us."
Andrew is the head of Christians in Sport in England and is one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Six Preachers (see below). He is currently in Sydney as one of the official chaplains to the Olympics. "I come representing both Christians in Sport, but also as the Archbishop of Canterbury's person for sports ministry," he explained.
Andrew, who played first class cricket with Oxford University, is an ordained Anglican clergyman. He is also Spiritual Adviser to the English Cricket Team.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is "a great supporter of Christians in Sport" as well as a great supporter of sport, Andrew says Dr Carey "is a keen football man and he sees the value of friendship evangelism based around a sport."
Professional sports people, says Andrew, are really "just like anybody else and often they're very fragile because they are very young." He continues: "One of the biggest needs that they face is loneliness when they're often away from home a great deal, and this whole issue of self-worth being linked to performance. The gospel speaks right into that situation with a God who cares for winners and losers alike."
Andrew's involvement with the Games sees him going out to the athletes' village, attending events, assisting other chaplains, helping with local evangelistic sports clinics and meeting up with sports ministry contacts in Sydney.
Speaking of his ministry within the village, he says, "What I find is that as I move about, as I pray, God time and again puts people in my path ... who actually do need a word of encouragement, or a word of friendship, and may even be asking questions about God." He continues, "Especially as the Games go on here we will find that those who have ‘underachieved', who have disappointed themselves, will welcome the reassurance of a God who really loves you and values you."
He describes one particular conversation with a British female athlete. He was hoping to speak to her as she had put in a poor performance in her event and he knew she would be disappointed. He was in the village at 7.15am one day praying: "Lord, it would be great to see this girl." Andrew takes up the story: "The very next person I saw was this girl and I was able to sympathise with her disappointment and hopefully encourage her about her next ...[performance] and relate to her as a Christian. I think that's immensely gracious of God."
And how is Andrew finding the Olympics? "I think the organisation is absolutely brilliant. I think the transport system has been fantastic. I think Olympic Park is sensational," he says. "My impression is of an brilliantly run Games. My impression is that the athletes are really very happy with all of that. I just don't hear complaints."
He does make one amused comment about the Australian television coverage.
"As a Brit trying to watch the Games on TV I would quite like to see a little bit more other than Australians coming fourth." Australians feature very prominently in the Australian television coverage. But he admits, "I'm sure that if it was in Britain it would be much the same."
The Six Preachers was a group set by Archbishop Thomas Cramner in the sixteenth century. Archbishop Cramner appointed six people to proclaim the gospel to the diocese of Canterbury. The current Archbishop of Canterbury has, to quote Andrew "breathed fresh life into it" by appointing six people to the group today who are involved in "fringe" ministries such as Andrew who is involved with sports ministry.