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Our Obsession With Sport Has Reached Religious Proportions

The willow and the ivy.
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the SCG.
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the SCG.

As a nation, Australia's obsession with sport has reached religious proportions. We are more religious about sport than religion itself.

Good Friday football in the AFL is just months away and now the prospect of playing cricket on Christmas Day is alive and well. This will annoy many. I'm not totally for it myself, but let's be honest, sooner rather than later, it will happen.

This won't come as a surprise to anyone with a sense of our current day fascinations. In reality, there are few things Australians obsess more about than sport.

Christmas, of course, is supposed to be a day spent with family and friends. It's a day of coming together to share gifts and lunch. To eat, drink and be merry. And to keep the cricket to the backyard.

The fact that Christmas Day is actually a religious event that celebrates the birth of Christ, remarkably seems lost on many. And to others, it appears insignificant.

There was a time when people found purpose and meaning from being an active member of the Church. Religious organisations generated communities. This was a time before every home had a TV, let alone two. Phones were landlines, not smart devices. People sought answers from religious elders, not Google. Kids and teenagers came together at Sunday school, not on social media. Sport was a pastime, not a profession.

The reality is, as time has changed, many religions have found it difficult to keep up, and the nation has changed.

At the last census, 13.1 million Australians (61 percent) said they identified themselves as Christians, but less and less of them are going to church. In 1954, almost three quarters (74 percent) of Catholics regularly attended mass. Today the figure is closer to 10 percent.

But that is not to say Australians are now lazier, or simply sleeping in on Sundays. Rather, they are doing other things. Like engaging in sport.

There are approximately 13,000 churches in Australia, compared with 70,000 sports clubs. 6.5 million Aussies participate in organised sport, while 7.6 million attend live sport each year. 92 percent of adult Australians have an interest in at least one sport and, importantly, 2.3 million people volunteer time for sport each year -- the largest volunteer group in the country.

Beneath the glitz and glam of professional, commercialised sport in Australia lies Australia's new religion. Grassroots sport brings people together. It encourages them to work together towards a common good. It enables them to foster relationships and engage in discussing life's important issues.

It makes people feel like they're part of something.

It does what religion once did.

The Big Bash's proposal to play on Christmas Day will not be convenient for everyone. There are those that will have to play, those that have to work at the event and those who just don't like sport, believing it hijacks every single aspect of life. There will also be those who wish they could have the undivided attention of their family and friends for just one day, without sport interfering.

As such, not everyone will want to go to the game and not everyone will watch. Some will have better things to do.

As someone who grew up as part of the Catholic community, I only ever saw and experienced good things. I tend to think that religion and sport can exist together and that family is fundamental to both institutions.

But as time goes by, it seems that for many, sport is more important to people than religion. People look forward to it. They bond over it. They come together to enjoy it. They spend time together watching it and playing it. And at the end of it all, they feel better because of it.

It's a lot like Christmas.


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