From Aug. 5 to Aug. 21, all eyes will turn to Brazil, where the 2016 Olympic Summer Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro. And while the Olympics are a secular endeavor, religion can be found there, if you know where to look. Many athletes are religious, with followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and untold numbers of minority religions practicing their faiths — some openly, some privately — as they vie for medals in the quadrennial Summer Games. Team USA is no exception, with athletes who have been public about their Catholicism, evangelical Christianity and Islam. Here are some hot sources to help you create religion-related Olympic coverage even if you watch the whole 16-day event from your living room.
Team USA athletes who are religious
- Simone Biles, gymnastics, Roman Catholic
- Mackenzie Brown, archery, evangelical Christian
- David Boudia, diving, evangelical Christian
- Gabby Douglas, gymnastics, evangelical Christian
- Brady Ellison, archery, evangelical Christian
- Kendrick Farris, weightlifting, evangelical Christian
- Allyson Felix, track and field, Baptist
- English Gardner, track and field, evangelical Christian
- Katharine Holmes, fencing, Catholic
- Steele Johnson, diving, evangelical Christian
- Katie Ledecky, swimming, Roman Catholic
- Ibtihaj Muhammad, fencing, Islam
- Lexi Thompson, golf, evangelical Christian
- Bubba Watson, golf, evangelical Christian
- Kerri Jennings Walsh, beach volleyball, Christian
- Serena Williams, tennis, Jehovah’s Witness
- Venus Williams, tennis, Jehovah’s Witness
- Read “These Are The Religious Accommodations Available At The Rio Olympics” by Antonia Blumberg for The Huffington Post, July 27, 2016. The takeaway: Only five religions will be represented at the interfaith center in the Olympic Village.
- Read “Brazil wants African religions in Rio’s athletes village” by Mauricio Savarese for The Associated Press.
- Read “Chabad ‘welcome centers’ in Rio to offer kosher food, multilingual assistance for Olympics” by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 27, 2016. The takeaway: Jewish athletes and spectators will have a place to celebrate Shabbat during the Olympics and Paralympics.
- Read “‘Noah’s Ark’ to Sail the Atlantic, Headed for Rio Olympics” by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 28, 2016. The takeaway: Dutch Christian evangelists are targeting Olympic athletes and spectators.
- Read “Amen Corner: God’s Golfers,” a June 3, 2013, story by Rachel Wood and James Masters writing for CNN. The takeaway: Many professional U.S. golfers are evangelical Christians, including some on the Team USA roster.
- Read “Olympian Gabby Douglas talks faith, forgiveness and matzo ball soup” by Adelle Banks for Religion News Service, Dec. 10, 2012. The takeaway: Then 16-year-old Douglas relied on her Christian faith to go for the gold.
- Read “Jews, Sikhs, Hindus root for fellow believers in the Olympics” by Omar Sacirbey for Religion News Service, Aug. 1, 2012. The takeaway: Members of minority religions feel pride when they see their co-religionists compete.
- Read “Olympics’ religious roots,” a column by Henry G. Brinton writing for USA Today, July 29, 2012. The takeaway: The author does not believe there should be dualism between sports and the spiritual.
Afe Adogame is a professor of religion and society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studies religious experiences in Africa and the African diaspora. He previously served as senior lecturer in religious studies and world Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, U.K.
Cassie Carstens is an evangelical Christian leader who has headed several sports-related Christian ministries and is the founder of The World Needs a Father. He served as chaplain to the 1995 South African national rugby team, which won the world championship. He is speaking at the inaugural Global Conference on Sports and Christianity about the redemptive role of sports. He is based in Durbanville, South Africa.
Paul Cartledge is a professor at Clare College at Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. He is an expert on ancient Greece and has written extensively about the religious roots of the ancient Olympics.
John Swinton is a nurse, ordained minister and theologian who teaches at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He has written extensively on the theology of disability; his publications include Theology, Disability and the New Genetics: Why Science Needs the Church (as co-editor) and the article “The Body of Christ Has Down’s Syndrome: Theological Reflections on Disability, Vulnerability and Graceful Communities.” He was co-organizer of the 2007 inaugural conference of the European Society for the Study of Disability and Theology.
He will speak at the inaugural Global Conference on Sports and Christianity on the subject of the “virtues and vices” of disability and sport.
Kulsoom Abdullah is a Muslim who wore hijab when she competed in weightlifting. She is the author of the blog Lifting Covered. She is featured in the documentary The Pakistan Four and is currently a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
She can speak about the experience of Ibtihaj Muhammad, whom she does not know personally, of competing in hijab.
Chad Bonham is a communications professional and author of Glory of the Games: Biblical Insights From the World’s Greatest Athletes, a book of profiles of Christian athletes, including some in the current Olympics. He conducted a series of interviews with Christian athletes for Beliefnet.com, many of them 2010 Olympians. He lives in Broken Arrow, Okla.
Lee M. DelleMonache is director of the Neumann University Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development at Neumann University in Aston, Pa.
Rebecca Dussault is a cross-country skier who competed for Team USA at the 2008 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. She is a Roman Catholic who now coaches and speaks from a position of faith. She can address the intersection of sports and faith and discuss how faith can support an athlete.
Shirl James Hoffman is professor emeritus of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He wrote the Jan. 29, 2010, Christianity Today cover story “Sports Fanatics,” and he has a book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports.
Hoffman is speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Global Conference on Sports and Christianity, just after the Olympics, and will present a talk titled “A Declaration on Sport and the Christian Life: A Call to Action.”
Ray McKenna is president and founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va. He can talk about the relationship between sports and religion and the role suffering, seen through a religious prism, can play for an athlete. He can also talk about Catholic doctrine and sports and what Catholic pontiffs have said or written about sports.
Anthony J. Moretti is an associate professor of communication at Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pa. He wrote a chapter on religion and the modern Olympics for the book Sport and Religion in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Brad Schultz and Mary Lou Sheffer. Moretti’s chapter looks both at world religions at the Olympic Games and the games as “civic religion.”