Chaplain charity aims for Super League pastoral care

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A Christian charity which fosters pastoral support for sport is hoping to ensure chaplains are in place to cover all top tier Rugby League clubs.

Coping with failure and crushing disappointment is part of the job for top sports stars.

To help their valuable players cope, many sports clubs employ pastors or chaplains to counsel their stars in difficult times.

Most football clubs have multi-faith chaplains to offer care to players and support staff. Sports chaplains are also increasingly visible in cricket, horse riding and rugby.

In summer 2012, when the eyes of the world were on the UK for the London Olympics, the 10,000 competitors were backed by 193 chaplains of different faiths from all over the world - the largest number ever to be present at a major sports tournament.

What does a sport chaplain do?

  • There are over 230 sports chaplains in the UK and Ireland.
  • The role of a sports chaplain is to offer pastoral and spiritual support wherever appropriate; to staff, coaches, players and fans.
  • Sport chaplains provide a confidential multi-faith service for athletes and support staff.
  • Many chaplains also undertake "traditional" functions for their sporting organisations such as funerals, weddings and scattering of ashes ceremonies.

Source: Sports Chaplaincy UK

Already three-quarters of teams in Super League have chaplains or chaplaincy support teams Sports Chaplaincy UK now wants to see such support extended to cover all top flight Rugby League sides by the end of the 2012-13 season.

Warren Evans, chaplain for the Bradford Bulls and the man leading this drive, says clubs now recognise that vital need for support.

"I work with the professional body setting up a support network for the sport. Not every club has a chaplain, but we provide an overall network of support," he told the BBC.

After the charity's autumn conference in October, the push will begin with a social media campaign. At the moment the drive is charity-led but it has the full support of the Rugby Football League (RFL) and the charity RL Cares.

'Pastoral heart'

A spokesperson for the RFL said: "Having a chaplain available has proved to be an invaluable resource for many clubs during times of personal stress, tragedy and worry in recent years and a source of great comfort to players and staff involved with many clubs.

"A chaplain's position as a neutral body, effectively totally removed from the playing and business element of the club, ensures that they play a valuable role as a source of support within the rugby league community."

Start Quote

Warren genuinely cares about the club and is always around for players and staff if we need to talk”

End Quote Lee St Hilaire Bradford Bulls assistant coach

He added that chaplains were heavily involved in helping players and fans deal with the tragic deaths of Featherstone Rovers hooker Gareth Swift and Wigan international Terry Newton.

Although passion and an understanding of sport is an important quality, those tragedies which touched the sport showed that it is not the primary requirement.

"We have a few [chaplains] that are ex-players and would certainly like more," explained Richard Gamble, CEO of the charity.

"The key is finding players or athletes who also have a pastoral heart.

"Chaplains need to understand the challenges and pressures of the sport in which they operate, but they do not need to be experts."

He added: "We are experts in caring for people we are not there to give our opinion on sport."

Many players are young, far from home, and have to deal with very difficult physical and psychological demands.

"If someone has less of a support network, or no family, they're more vulnerable because they're isolated," explained Mr Evans, who has been Bulls chaplain for three seasons. "Then we're there for them."

Member of the team

But it is not just players from overseas who turn to the chaplains for support.

A depressed man covering his face with his hands Chaplains provide support during times of depression and stress

The charity wants everyone within a club - from the chief executive to ticket staff - to take advantage of its chaplains' confidential guidance and comfort.

Mr Evans added: "Sometimes it's just turning up and letting people see your face. Then when there is a problem they can ask 'do you mind if I have a chat and a cup of tea with you?'"

Lee St Hilaire, assistant coach at the Bradford Bulls, said that the presence of a chaplain had been a source of solace for staff and players during the club's recent financial troubles.

"Pastor Warren will speak to myself and my family at social events, I consider him a friend as well as our chaplain," he said.

Players and staff at the Bulls, who were handed a six-point deduction for entering administration, faced an uncertain future in the league until it was granted a one-year licence to stay. Mr St Hilaire believes that clubs without chaplains are missing out.

"Warren genuinely cares about the club and is always around for players and staff if we need to talk," he added.

For the Bulls their sports chaplain is very much part of the team.

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