Chaplains to sports communities have existed since the middle of the 20th century and have significantly grown in the past 20 years. The United States, United Kingdom and Australia have well established Christian sports chaplaincy ministries.
In 1982 a congress held in Hong Kong on sports mission saw sports chaplains and those interested in Mission to people engaged in sports come together from around the world including recognised representatives from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, the sub-continent and Australasia. It was this congress that created the inspiration to further develop or initiate national sports missions and sports chaplains.
Sports chaplains consist of people 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 empathize and relate to some of the challenges facing the participant with whom they are ministering.
There were 193 multi-faith sports chaplains at the London 2012 Olympics.
The USA have various sport related chaplaincy organizations. Along with major Denominations, Ministries such as Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes also provide chaplains to various sports at the collegiate and professional levels. Every major professional sport in the United States has at least some sports chaplaincy. Some sports are more coordinated, like Major League Baseball (see www.baseballchapel.org), but most are far more loosely structured with each chaplain having a program that best suits their team and individual situation. Every MLB, NFL, NBA & Major League Soccer franchise has a chaplain. Due to financial constraints, very few chaplains travel with their teams. In some cases, especially when an individual coach understands the value of the chaplain to their team, the coach may invite the chaplain to come on a road trip. This happens far more frequently when a team is traveling a short distance to a neighboring city by bus or motor coach, but in some cases, coaches have paid (out of their own pocket) to bring a chaplain on a road trip.
In recent years, much more work is being done by chaplains in specific sports to coordinate and work together so that their players can have support and encouragement from a chaplain even when they are “on the road”.
In addition, the US Olympic Team travels with one or more chaplains, primarily to provide emotional support to the athletes.
Sports Chaplaincy UK, formerly known as SCORE was established in 1991 under the guidance and direction of the Baptist Union of Great Britain to use the specialist experience of one of their ministers to pioneer sports chaplaincy and sports ministry.
Called Sports Chaplaincy UK since 2011, the Christian charity seeks to resource over 250 chaplains in a variety of sports and situations. Their chaplains are mainly in football, rugby union, rugby league, cricket and horseracing. They supplied over 40 chaplains to serve at the London2012 Olympics. All offer pastoral and spiritual support in a sensitive, non-judgement, non-sectarian way. All work with integrity and professionalism amongst the whole community of their clubs - the players, coaches, organisation and support staff. There is a real sense of affirmation and endorsement from the widest spectrum of the sports world, from the chaplains' work and involvement.
As a direct result of the Hong Kong 1982 Congress on Sports Mission, pioneered by Mark Tronson, the Australian Heads of Churches approved a Sports Chaplaincy mission, which was named the 'Sports and Leisure Ministry' (SLM). It was initially housed within the well established InterChurch Trade and Industry Mission (ITIM). In 1985 Australian Heads of Churches gave SLM its independence and in 1987 its Heads of Churches appointed board members adopted incorporation. In 2000 Heads of Churches released its founder, Mark Tronson, to establish Well-Being Australia, specialising in athlete respite. Five years later in 2005 SLM changed its name to Sports Chaplaincy Australia (SCA).
As a result of its solid foundation under Australian Heads of Churches, SLM (now SCA) has seen many professional sports in Australia adopt sport chaplains. Over 180 chaplains now serve in sports and sport organizations such as cricket, motor racing, tennis, rugby league, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, yachting, skiing, netball, rodeo and horse racing, the Australian Institute of Sport, and State Institutes of Sport.
Patron saint of athletes, athletics, and sports
- See: St. Sebastian