“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
Religion has had both a positive and negative relationship with sports.
On one hand, both religion and sports have been built upon a positive ethos of commitment to hard work, personal sacrifice, fairness and achievement. They both incorporate the use of rituals and customs and it is common to see the invocation of God in training, team meetings and in the celebration of success and even failure.
On the other hand, it has been argued that the spirit of competitive sports have sometimes weakened the spiritual bond of people both as active and passive participants.
In the Christian-dominated US, Woods (2007) argues that religion has been used as a means to justify American preoccupation with sports. Not only is sports seen as having an appeal to God, it has also been a means through which religious bodies have used sports to reinforce its membership.
For instance, Woods (2007) cites the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), secondary schools such as Christ the King and universities such as Oral Roberts University use sports through the provision of sporting facilities and excellent sporting programmes to attract new members, students and even donors.
Amara (2008) cites that sports have been able to mobilise nationalist support throughout the Muslim world cutting across class, gender and sectarian differences. She argues that modern sports and Islam can coexist in the same world.
However, she claims that sports have to be seen as a site for the negotiation of differences which can enhance cross cultural experiences. This approach has the potential to minimise the clash of western and traditional value systems which has been the source of some of the controversies in sports participation as it relates to the athletes from the Muslim world.
In an in-depth study of eight schools in West Midlands, England, to gain an understanding as to why Muslim girls were withdrawing from physical education, Dagakasa et al. (2011) concluded that religious concerns of the girls needed to be incorporated into the schools’ policies as well as in its physical education programmes.
Some of the specific problems that were identified by the students and their parents were the lack of flexible dress codes especially as it related to the wearing of the hijab and the use of public swimming pools. Dagakasa et al. (2011) argued that a more embracing sport policy would allow for the inclusion of Muslim girls.
As studies have been conducted elsewhere in the world, the same has to be done in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean. The benefits of understanding this link can be multiple and everlasting especially in a society that is highly differentiated along religious lines.
As research has indicated, females are more likely than males to be restricted from participating in sports and physical activities as they are expected to be the prime bearers of religious values and practices.
Outside of engaging in sports and physical activities for recreational and fun reasons, many talented persons may be discouraged from taking part in sports seriously because of insensitivities to religious diversity in existing sporting programmes.
As such in formal settings such as schools, once a proper understanding of how religious beliefs and practices impact upon how students view and engage sports, proper intervention strategies can be undertaken. These strategies can be helpful to physical education teachers, parents and most importantly the students.
Local religious organisations must also look to put greater effort at encouraging their followers young and old to participate in sports and physical activities.
Not only would such activities benefit the individuals personally but collectively it can be a means through which religious groups can further connect with their members. As much as competition and winning is important, sports can also be a good means through which religious bodies can teach important life lessons to their members.
At the end of the day it would not be surprising to hear some sport administrators claim that religion is not their business but many governing bodies are adopting measures that reflects some degree of understanding of differences in religious beliefs of sport personnel.
A perfect example of this is the recent decision by FIFA to allow for religious head wear to be worn by players. Such a move not only recognises the difference in religious beliefs but also paves the way for more persons to come forward to participate in football.
Religion when combined with other variables such as social class, family, school and community does impact on the level and extent of participation in sport and physical activities. As such the various sporting authorities and researchers should embark upon gaining a deeper understanding of the connection between religion and sports as it can best serve the overall good of the society.