When Kwaku Bonsam, a popular Ghanaian spiritualist, recently claimed responsibility for the injury of Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player on earth now (in the eyes of FIFA), some people may have believed it, while others may have dismissed it as a comic relief.
But beyond the belief or comical relief that Kwaku Bonsam’s claim may inspire, a more critical issue to examine is the seemingly strong connection between football and religion.
And as the biggest football event in the world – the World Cup goes on in Brazil, global attention will be focused on unfolding events in the South American country over the 30 days.
By now, many Christians, Muslims, believers of African religion and adherents of other faiths, especially in countries participating in the World Cup, may have plunged into fervent prayers, asking God to grant their favourite teams success.
The Catholic Church and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission in Ghana are among the Christian and Muslim communities in the country who have organised prayer support for Ghana’s Black Stars in their third World Cup campaign.
Link between football and religion
There is no reference to football in the Bible or Quran, but adherents of the two faiths believe religion has a major role to play in football.
According to the Parish Priest of the St Peter’s Catholic Church at Osu, Accra, Reverend Fr. Dominic Amegashitsi, and the General Secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission in Ghana, Mr Ahmad Anderson, football has a religious connection.
In their view, so long as people pray in and outside the stadium for their teams to win, religion has a major role to play in football.
Indeed, it is a normal practice to see players offering prayers at the beginning of matches and whenever the going gets tough in the course of the game, especially during penalty shootouts.
Mr Anderson says after undergoing physical training, the players need to pray for success in the game.
“Islam doesn’t abhor football,” he submits, adding that football offers a lot of good disciplines that are cherished in Islam.
Mr Anderson says the Ahmadiyya Mission even has a football team and that the mission organises games for the members, so for them football is a major activity.
“It’s one game that brings complete unity to the nation; everyone rallies around the national flag, and that is what religion seeks to do,” he says.
Superstition also plays a major role in football, as many teams, individual players and coaches consult oracles and spiritualists or ‘juju’ men to seek success.
Rev. Fr Amegashitsi, who is also the Dean of the Osu Deanery of the Catholic Church, says such superstitious beliefs underline the role of religion in the game of football.
Assembly of people
Rev. Fr Amegashitsi says religion is not about the structure of a church, but the assembly of people within that structure. As people, therefore, gather at a stadium to watch a football match during which period they engage in various activities such as praying for their teams and cheering up players in a manner that takes away their burden, religion is taking place at the stadium.
Rev. Fr Amegashitsi says the import of religion is to give ultimate happiness to people and so if someone goes to the stadium and engages in a discussion that brings happiness, it can be considered as religion.
Mr Anderson concurs by saying both on and off the field of play, one can supplicate to his Maker for success.
In many instances, there is a direct connection between religion and football, as adherents directly intervene through prayers for the success of their favourite teams.
When Ghana won the 2009 Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, for instance, the founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Prophet T. B. Joshua, was reported to have given spiritual directions to the coach of the Black Satellites that ensured the team’s victory in the grand finale.
“In line with mass intention, we pray for the success of the players and that no one should get injury. Sometimes, we even sing the national anthem in church to support the team,” Rev. Fr Amegashitsi points out.
Just like Christians, Muslims in Ghana also spare some thoughts in prayer for the Black Stars during international football tournaments.
“We should all activate our prayers for the success of the team,” Mr Anderson says, adding that praying for the success of the senior national football team helps to promote peace and stability in the country, as well as yield good religious, political and economic dividends.
Does football affect worship?
The strong attraction of the World Cup tournament, especially when the Black Stars are playing, can have a huge impact on worship in respect of attendance, as many people stay away from the church and the mosque to watch the matches.
There are instances when some churches have been compelled to reschedule their service timetable to give opportunity to the members to watch some of the matches.
While admitting such effect, Rev. Fr Amegashitsi says the schedule for church services at his parish will not be varied for the sake of the World Cup tournament.
“We don’t change our timetable, except that as a priest, I’m always in a hurry to close and go and watch the match if it involves the Black Stars,” he remarks.