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Ruben Fernandez, an evangelical chaplain in London 2012, criticizes the drastic reduction of licenses to meet the religious needs of athletes during the Olympic Games.
The Brazil Olympic Games are almost here. The organisers are making the last arrangements to have everything ready. One of the services available in the Olympic Village is a multi-faith centre, with chaplains and prayer spaces, representing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.
There have been many complaints about the bad conditions of some Olympic facilities, and the multi-faith centre is not an exception.
Ruben Fernandez, a Spanish member of the Christian organisation Athletes in Action, who has been an evangelical chaplain in many sports events, in the last 30 years, told Protestante Digital in an interview, that the presence of only 4 evangelical chaplains “is not enough”, specially compared to other Olympic Games.
You can read the interview below.
Question. There have been far fewer licenses for evangelical chaplains in Rio than in other Olympic Games. Is it enough to have four evangelical chaplains in the Olympic Village?
Answer. The Olympic Villa in Rio will house 17,950 permanent delegates, and many more who prefer or have to stay outside, but will be coming ang going. It is literally a city with all the services and needs, where tens of thousands of volunteers, workers, federations representaive, and politicians work 24 hours a day.
The Olympic Charter states that the Games should provide resources to meet the spiritual and religious needs of their participants. The numbers speak for themselves. But regarding the distribution of prophylactic, Rio has already announced a record distribution of 450,000 condoms in the Villa.
Q. Compared to London, is it a big difference? What kind of differences can make the work of the chaplains difficult (space, activity ...)?
A.The difference is huge. In London there was a team coordinating the work of multi-faith services for 4 years before the Games, and the 19 international evangelical chaplains, who joined a team big enough to have three continuous shifts in a Villa with similar demands, were confirmed a year and a half in advance.
Among the four evangelical chaplains, no one is from Africa, Asia or Australia. There is only one woman. The four chaplains barely cover 5 or 6 languages, and they will not be able to take care of all the needs inside and outside the chapel. Chaplains are volunteers and do not live in the Villa.With just 4 Chaplains, it will be very difficult to have one of them for possible emergency or trauma situations.
Q. I imagine there are many evangelical athletes in the competition. What is the work of the chaplain?
A. The work of the chaplains at sporting events like this, includes the provision of services in a specifica area designated as chapel. Prayer; the study of the Word, receiving a Bible in a language they can read, someone who listens to them, counseling, liturgical services, a meeting with Olympic of my own faith, etc.
It also includes intercession, and being there for critical situations that sadly exist: injuries, accidents, emotional crisis, the pressure of winning or the heartbreak of defeat, the tension and pressure itself and the environment.
Religious formal services of Muslims and Catholics are usually much more regular and popular, but athletes and Olympic delegates, from volunteers, delegates, coaches, athletes, to even presidents of national Olympic Committees, often develop their spiritual disciplines for themselves with the help of their inmediate environment, and often help us to provide Bible studies, presentations to their own teams or even organise Sunday services by themselves (music, testimonies, meditation on the Word, etc.).
There are some nationalities in particular, like Kenya, South Korea or the United States with a high percentage of people committed and steadfast in their faith in Jesus.
The main reason why international chaplains are so important, apart from the ethnic, linguistic and cultural reasons, it is because those who are selected are trained and experienced in serving high performance athletes before, during and after events sports. They know them and trust on them.
In many cases they know the challenges and needs the athletes and their environment face in a challenge like this.
Presence, prudence, being a good listener, and understanding the challenges of identity linked to performance and achievement, are some of the keys that a sports chaplain must know how to manage in a place like this.
It is also important to know that for many people your role and your presence is misunderstood and even thankless, and respond with grace and wisdom, without imposing a service that, if it is a mere positional testimony, will not be very effective.
Q. Are there also opportunities for evangelism?
A. To serve and love unconditionally in the direction and power of the Holy Spirit, leads you to represent Christ in what you do and how you do, and constantly generates significant opportunities to make an impact for eternity. Many of us have been developing resources to serve effectively thelt needs of people in the sports world.
In my case, to make high performance coaching and sports mentorship with professional qualifications helps me to serve people that would not reach me for a religious service.
In addition to this fundamental mission role, there are organizations like Athletes in Action they serve and bring Jesus to clubs, teams, and other events at the regional and national level, and develop resources to help athletes to take interest and grow in Christ and their faith in relation to sport.
In Rio there will be a project with 170 delegates from around the worldbeing trained and expanding the vision of how to make this work better before, during and after events like the Olympics. All participants were selected for having meaningful relationships and a natural context of service and networking with athletes at this level.
There is a network of intercession to which we can all come together to pray for each Olympic athlete by name, there is also an excellent campaign through the media and social networks (you can see it here ), with stories of struggle and triumph of Olympic and Paralympics athletes that follow Jesus, in multiple languages. You can follow and share in the form of posts, short clips, daily readings ...
In Rio and worldwide, thanks to the efforts of the International Sports Coalition, there are always plenty of resources to use now that the planet has its eye on human heroes,to point to the giver of life and Jesus, through the lives and talents of some of these world-class athletes (see it here, also in several languages.)