Former hockey player Hannah Johnson decided to become a sports chaplain when her sister’s Olympic dream was shattered by injury in 2008 in Beijing.
“Two days before the opening ceremony, she did her hamstring and so she was evicted from the village and her Olympic dream was over. Just seeing the brutality of what sport can do sparked my passion,” she says.
“The reason I do it is I see the need for our athletes to be seen as people, not just performers, and to know that their value [as an athlete] has nothing to do with their purpose. So if I come alongside them and journey with them – and hopefully do my best to reflect Christ’s love to them – they will come to know that they are more than a performer and that they can go after their dreams but with an understanding of who they actually are in Christ.”
“I see the need for our athletes to be seen as people, not just performers.” – Hannah Johnson
Working for Sports Chaplaincy Australia with all Olympic sports since 2012, Hannah is Multi-Faith Manager for Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC), overseeing the entire village for the Games on the Gold Coast.
“Every day looks different. Sometimes they may go out to see the athletes compete, sometimes they just stay in the village, connecting here, then we respond to different requests.”
This year, because Easter falls just before the Games, several countries have requested Easter services, not only for the athletes but also the officials.
“We’ve had a fair few shocked people who haven’t qualified for the Australian team where there was a lot of family expectation on the athletes, where extended family and friends have all bought tickets and booked flights and then the athlete hasn’t actually qualified. So not only are they disappointed themselves for not getting picked for the team, but then they’ve got the added weight of feeling like they’ve let their family and friends down,” she says.
“It’s no wonder that they have those challenges of getting their identity from their sport.” – Hannah Johnson
“You’ve got a lot of countries that put a lot of expectation on athletes and if they don’t perform on the day, you add on extra pressure … for some it’s not easy to try and process that.
“Some of them will say, ‘Can you pray for me but not with me?’ Sometimes I don’t necessarily pray with them the first or second time, but when they’re coming back, that allows the opportunity to ask them who is God to them or what does faith mean? And when you get to hear their story then out of that, I can pitch what’s appropriate to who their understanding of God is and how that all works.”
Another crisis comes when athletics careers are over.
“If you don’t perform well, then you no longer make teams, you no longer have coaches speaking to you, you no longer have sponsors, you no longer have friends. A lot of that world changes whether you make a team or not and it’s no wonder that they have those challenges of getting their identity from their sport.”