Coffee House

Chariots of fire

12 August 2012

When the contestants were lining up for last night’s sensational 5,000 metre race, both of the American contestants waited until the cameras were on them, then crossed themselves and held their hands in prayer. It’s quite some sight to secular Brits, where religious language (even ‘God bless’) and mannerisms have dropped out of our national life and vocabulary. But to quite a few of the Olympians, their faith is of crucial importance, which we have seen this year through their Twitter feeds.

Mo Farah, a Muslim, prayed on the track after winning both of his Golds. After Usain Bolt broke the Olympic record for the 100 metres, he did likewise. ‘I want to thank GOD for everything he has done for me cause without him none of this wouldn’t be possible,’ he tweeted. ‘A lot a thanks goes out to the greatest coach ever. Glen Mills. Really blessed the day the heavenly Father brought you in my life.’ When the American hurdler Lolo Jones arrived London, for another attempt at the Gold, she tweeted: ‘Thank you Lord for another chance and for holding me as I waited’. On receiving this year’s Eric Liddell award British Olympic rower, Debbie Flood, declared: ‘God has given me the gifts and abilities that I have and I have tried to use them to the best of my ability.’ Muslim Olympians have been observing Ramadan and praying together. And when the Egyptian Alaaeldin Abouelkassem won a fencing silver, he knelt and prayed.


I haven’t watched all of the BBC’s Olympic coverage, but I suspect that they have not devoted much time, if any, to examining the role of religion as a motivating factor for our sportsmen. And, to be fair to them, there’s hardly a huge mass demand in a Britain, which is now, by some measures, the least religious country in Europe. The best-ever film about religion and athletics, Chariots of Fire, was British. ‘God made me for me reason, but He also made me fast,’ Eric Liddell says in the film. ‘And when I run, I can feel His pleasure.’ Even in 1984 it sounded a little anachronistic, as if athletes don’t really see the world in this way anymore.

It certainly is not a point that will be made much by commentators. But the tweets and public displays of thanksgiving, most spectacularly Mo Farah’s, show how keen many Olympians are to make this point themselves.

PS: The athlete pictured above, Lopez Lomong, is a Sudanese born Catholic. He was abducted at the age of six by government-backed militia while attending Mass in his home village of Kimotong. He was imprisoned with 100 other boys, many of whom perished in a war that was to kill two million. But one night he escaped, aided by older teenagers, and found his way to a Kenyan refugee camp where he grew up. He watched Michael Johnson run in the 2000 Olympics on a black & white TV and decided he wanted to run. There were not many training facilities at the refugee camp (nicknamed Lomong, after which he named himself), but a Catholic charity moved him to America when he turned 16. Last night, he stood in front of the world’s cameras in the final of the 5,000 metres. If he looked like he was giving thanks, that’s probably why.

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  • Ian Walker

    I’m so glad God has all the time on her hands to help people run in circles a little bit quicker. Still, I suppose she deserves a bit of Cameron-esque chillaxing time after she’s sorted out all those wars that her followers caused, all the diseases that her missionaries help to spread, and all the starving children that her weather systems have deprived of a harvest.

  • Matthew Whitehouse

    I really don’t think God will put things aside and help you win a medal. If you believe in God and he gives you strength, thats a good thing, but to wait until the camera’s are on you to pray is more about “Hey, look how seriously i take things”. It’s all about image for them.

  • Stewart

    Imagine there’s no countries?! Really? Well, there likely would be no olympics then. Despite generally good coverage the BBC go and tarnish their efforts with ‘Imagine’ as their final montage sign off. A dirge of a paen to atheism. What of all the athletes including Farah, who prayed or thanked their chosen God for their success? Surely they could have found something better and less cliche. Another example of BBC’s institutional anti-religious bias.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    The BBC have devoted much of their time to promoting their own particular politically crass institutionally self-indulgent celebration of the cult of celebrity. It was surprising they even had time for the Olympics! Not much time for religion there then.

  • Kevin

    God made Bolt and Farah win, then? But what about all the equally-devout American (and others) athletes they beat?

    They fall into despair, doubt the existence of God, start to believe matter made itself, realise they are being silly and then pray, as they probably did before the race, “Thy will be done”. Actually, my guess is they probably just do the last of these.

  • Magnolia

    Yes, I watched Chariots of Fire on TV again this week as well. It wasn’t all about Scotland, religion and running. It was about sport breaking down class, religious and regional barriers between people within Britain. It was about perfectionism and the ethical realities of amateur versus professional. It was about the legitimate differences of opinion between similarly patriotic and talented people from differing backgrounds. As always there was Oxbridge and snobbery there in the heart of it.
    I screamed with joy along with everyone else when Mo won his golds but I also screamed for the Brownlees because I live in Yorkshire and have sons. Mo has a sweet face and a beautiful smile. It was a wonderful moment for all of us but especially for the muslims of our country and for those who share similar backgrounds. Mo is a role model just like the Brownlees are as were Liddell and Abrahams before them.

  • Radford_NG

    11 Aug. c. 2.40pm. BST…..When it comes to religion and science you might like to look-up Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a bio-chemist (Cambridge:double first,honours;doctorate) ,on dogma and delusion in contemporary science.He has just published ‘A New Science of Life’ (titled ‘The Science Delusion’ by British publishers : Sheldrake says Dawkins isn’t that famous outside Britain).In it he contests ‘The Ten Dogmata’ of modern science.A lengthy item and an interview with him can be found at

  • Wilhelm

    Thank God the 2 week bongo bongo madness is over

  • Augustus

    “…where religious language (even ‘God bless’) and mannerisms have dropped out of our national life and vocabulary…”
    Well, I still hear it a lot, and I like it. I’m not ashamed to call myself a Christian, and I believe that religious faith is not about retrospection of a time long past, but it is, I hope,
    a vision of a world still to come. A world that will be built by sincere people of faith, who care more about love for humanity than about the triumph of their own tribe or theology.

    • Coffeehousewall

      I also hear ‘God bless’ being offered, even by young people. I think it is a bi mistake, which it is easy for critical athiests here to make since they are speaking out of ignorance, to assume that Christian faith has meaning for atheletes only when they are winning. On the contrary, it has meaning in developing the character of a person who can win honestly, and lose with magnaminity. It has little to do with praying to beat someone else. All to do with doing one’s best.

  • Mirtha Tidville

    A boxer was once facing a big match. Before he got into the ring he spoke to a priest of his acquaintence and asked..Father if I pray before I get into the ring do you think it might help. The priest thought for a moment and said…it will if you can box well enough!!………..There`s yer answer

  • Austin Barry

    I wonder whether the para-Olympians are as favourably disposed towards their God.

  • Spammo Twatbury

    God made Bolt and Farah win, then? But what about all the equally-devout American (and others) athletes they beat? How does God decide which of them he’s going to make the winner? I’m going to hazard a guess he goes by which one’s the fastest runner.

    • kunduchi

      Perhaps we should ban theists from future games in the same way that we ban drugs at present.
      Surely having a god to push you over the line is an unfair advantage. Henceforth only atheists should be allowed to compete. We need a level playing field!

  • Jeep

    Lots of anti-religious comments from people in thrall to Dawkins mob. See Edward Feser’s blog if you want your lazy arguments challenged.

    • Mike

      I guess it’s more comforting to believe those that don’t subscribe to religion must be Dawkins fanatics, as opposed to people who are merely stating the obvious. It still amazes me how many otherwise perfectly rational individuals can still, in this day and age, have such wilful a blind spot when it comes to the subject of God(s).

      • Jeep

        What amazes me is the rank smugness of people who think this subject is as simple as the New Atheists make out. This is a live topic in philosophy of religion, not that a biologist such as Dawkins or armchair atheists would know or care.

        • Mike

          There you go with that Dawkins word again. “New Atheists” is a real give away, too. If it’s smug to tell someone that 2 plus 2 doesn’t equal 5 then, by all means, call me smug.

          Believing in God (which God, by the way?) is a form of socially accepted irrationality. That much is simple. Where it gets urgently complex, and where much discussion is needed, is the effect such irrationality has on the world.

        • Spammo Twatbury

          Nobody mentioned Dawkins but you, buddy.

        • woolfiesmiff

          Sorry, first tell me which of the 1,765 competing God’s you are talking about. Which of the more than 1000 different creation myths is currently leading the way as the prime likely answer and tell me which philosopher or theologist discovered this.

          My personal favourite is the Makiritare myth which involves this particular God dreamimg about a dream whilst creating the world by waving his maracas and smoking strong fags.

          • Daniel Maris

            Which of the 100 competing cosmological origin theories in modern science do you believe in?
            Do you believe in multiverse theory – the idea that there is literally an infinity of alternative universes where you will somewhere find yourself winning the 5000 metres? I’ve always felt that in terms of rationality you’re better off believing in a skygod than that.

    • alexsandr

      I’m not lazy. I have looked for evidence of ‘God’ and found none. I also looked for mountains in East Anglia and found none. Therefore god and mountains in East Anglia IMHO dont exist.
      The lazy are those who believe without considering the evidence.

      • Jeep

        Absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean evidence of absence. IF god exists it would be a spaceless, timeless, immaterial being, Not really something you’re going to clap eyes on or find direct physical evidence of. If you dig deeper you’ll realise the New Atheists are the John Prescotts of the debate.

        • alexsandr

          So, I have to believe in a something that has no physical manifestation, and for which there is no evidence of its existence?
          And that something seems to cause people to commit the most horrible acts upon each other, and has created an environment so imperfect that we have children with parasites living in their eyes, for example.
          Sorry. Ill leave this stuff well alone thanks, and believe in science. For in the physics of Hawkin et al there is true beauty

          • Radford_NG

            11 Aug. c.12.45pm. BST……HANG-ON A BIT:are there two people here posting under the name ‘jeep’?

          • Jeep

            There is evidence for Gods existence if you care to honestly examine the arguments.
            If we have free will then God doesn’t cause us to do anything. The moral evil that exists cannot be shown to be rationally incompatible with Gods existence, although it is a powerful emotional problem, granted. This all reminds me of the Lefts mantra that inequality causes all societal problems, it’s a sort of surface understanding wilfully ignoring any evidence to the contrary. Anyway, have a good Sunday :)

          • Nicholas

            Then science becomes your religion and Dawkins your prophet.

        • Ron Todd

          Is a world with many religions more likely in a universe created by an all powerful god or in a universe where people make up religions?

        • woolfiesmiff

          Assuming you are of the Christian or any Abrahamic faith ( forgive me if wrong) then your holy book has made numerous claims of direct interaction with mortals, your God has directly conversed with 700 year old ark builders etc. His son ( also a God) lived on Earth apparently for 30 odd years. Various of the Christian minor gods like satan and angels have revealed themselves to humans.

          One wonders why he suddenly disappeared from materialising about the time humans started to keep records of things that actually happen and started to gather evidence for natural phenomena .

          Although to be fair Joseph Smith did claim to have a met a god or two.

          I’m an old atheist by the way. Not sure exactly what the difference is but there you go.

      • Nicholas

        Ah. but the argument of the atheists is that because there are no mountains in East Anglia there are no mountains. A quite different proposition.

        And science, which is the mainstay of those who do not believe, has re-visited and revised much “science” which was taken as gospel in former years. So has a point been reached in science where everything is known? If it has perhaps you might explain to me the “irrationality” of the concept of infinite space? What exists beyond that which exists and how are its boundaries known?

        • Harold S

          “The argument of the atheists is that because there are no mountains in East Anglia there are no mountains.”

          No, the argument of the atheists is that because there are no percebtible mountains in East Anglia there is no reason to believe there are mountains in East Anglia.

          • Coffeehousewall

            The argument of atheists is surely nothing to do with mountains, but with the entirely subjective view that because they have no experience of God no-one can have any experience of God.

            • Harold S

              Hey, don’t blame me for the mountain analogy, I just pointed out the false assertion for which it was used by the poster I replied to.

              The problem is not in people having ‘experiences’ of God, but the product of those experiences – the obstruction of scientific and societal progress. It’s fine if an athelete says God helped them win a medal. It’s not fine if suicide bombers believe they’ll spend the rest of eternity in bliss for killing thirty of their countrymen. Or that local state councils have to seriously consider teaching creationism as a science in the US.

              • Nicholas

                But what about the obstruction of scientific and societal progress by bogus science – or new religion – like climate change or Dawkins as the prophet of Atheism? Some atheists seem to treat their belief (belief in no God) as a religion to be preached to others. In the absence of certainties I’m struggling to see the difference.

          • Nicholas

            Yes, but on what basis do you apply that analogy to an infinity. You can travel the whole of East Anglia to evidence that there are no mountains but can you do the same with the infinity of space to evidence that there is no supreme being? Don’t think so.

            So the atheist argument is the frog in the well who cannot comprehend the sea. They might be right – they might not.

      • Publius

        “I also looked for mountains in East Anglia and found none. Therefore god and mountains in East Anglia IMHO dont exist.”

        Yet I assume you would say you believe in gravity?

        • woolfiesmiff

          So you are saying that you went and looked for gravity somewhere and didn’t find it but you still believe in it?

          • Publius

            woolfiesmiff. The first paragraph is quoting the words of an earlier poster. Was that clear to you?

            Or was your question directed at someone else?

            • woolfiesmiff

              Yes very clear and your second paragraph was ” Yet I assume you would say you believe in gravity?”

              If I’ve misunderstood the implied meaning of this statement could you make it clear what you actually meant by it.

              • Publius

                woolfiesmiff asks: “So you are saying that you went and looked for gravity somewhere and didn’t find it but you still believe in it?”

                Then the answer to your question is no, I did not go looking for gravity somewhere.

    • woolfiesmiff

      So in your world to be an atheist you must also believe in Dawkins. Hmmm I don’t think your grasp of reality is too healthy

  • Gerry Dorrian

    It’s a diversity-based error to classify things relating to faith as good things. Take Mo Farrah’s namesake – Zamzam Mohamed Farah, who ran for Somalia. Because she showed her face while running, she’s received death threats from her countrypeople, presumably on morality rooted in their/her faith. But given the size and orthodoxy of Somali communities here, where will she find a safe sanctuary?

    • David Ossitt

      “she’s received death threats from her countrypeople,”

      But then they are loathsome Muslim savages.

  • June

    As long as a documentary fairly examined the many, many more athletes whose faith completely failed in procuring any medals I’d be all up for watching it.

  • Klint

    “And, to be fair to them, there’s hardly a huge mass demand in a Britain,
    which is now, by some measures, the least religious country in Europe.”

    Good. I’m happy to live in a country where religion is on the decline.

    As for the bigger point, I suspect if a documentary did seriously examine the placebo effects of religious persuasion on athletes they’d find that those whose race (no pun intended) was of African descent are more inclined to buy into it. I didn’t notice many white entrants making overtly religious gestures.

    • Curnonsky

      There are several religions alive and well in Britain – Warmism, Diversityism, Euroism and of course the ancient faith of Socialism.

  • Span Ows

    Carl lewis aid the same as Bolt, no doubt many champions over the years have.

    @woolfiesmiff:disqus “anyone can succeed, you’ve just got to sacrifice everything and work really hard”.
    That and only that is the secret to success in any field.”
    Yes, but they believe God gave them the will to sacrifice everything.

    • woolfiesmiff

      Do they? You know that how? So what caused all the successful atheists to win? More atheists won medals in the Olympics .

      • Span Ows

        You seem unable to read, “they believe”

  • John_Page

    How many losers were failed by the deities of their superstitions?

    • tele_machus

      The deities have not helped most of the words poor nations nor the underpriveleged in our society.

      How many of the poorest African
      and Latin American nations, for example, have the capacity to churn out
      medal-winners in the way we can with our lottery millions invested

      The whole African continent
      accounted for a fraction of the medals won and the Latin American countries have
      not fared better.

      Further the narrow range of social
      backgrounds of a large proportion of our medallists have been painfully obvious
      as soon as many open their mouths to speak.

      And the real problem is that this
      social disparity is growing rather than diminishing.

      Around 5,000 state schools sold
      off their playing fields in the decade before controls were introduced in 1999.

      More recently, countless leisure
      centres and swimming pools have been cutting their opening hours, raising their
      charges or closing altogether and the trend will continue until the present
      austerity programme is halted.

      At the same time, Britain’s
      public schools expand their sports and leisure facilities to entice the wealthy
      and the comfortable to buy their children a privileged education.

      Without massive investment in
      sports and schools facilities, and the abolition of the grotesque private
      education system, Britain is heading for the scenario in which most sports
      competitors are upper or middle-class while their spectators, if they can
      afford the tickets, are mostly working class.

      • telemacharse

        Blah, blah, blah. Useless bollocks and misinformation from the Coffee House’s resident troll.

      • alexsandr

        No mention of the lefty ‘no child must fail’ philosophy in primary schools which has made our kids uncompetitive, not just is sport but in general life only.

      • David Ossitt

        Bloody socialist liar, read this you cretin.

        Question: Request asking for details of the
        number of school playing fields that have been sold in the years 1979 to
        1997 and since 1998 along with the names of these schools and the towns
        in which they were located. Case Number 101795

        Since 1997, 192 playing fields have been sold out of total of
        over 20,000 schools (this is compared to an estimated 10,000 between
        1979 and 1997). 91 belonged to schools that were closing, 83 of those
        that remained open used the sale to improve their sports facilities and
        the remaining 18 improved their educational facilities.

        We do not hold any further details of the number of school playing
        fields sold between 1979 and 2008. The sale of school playing fields is a
        matter for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).
        For further information DCSF can be contacted at:

        Department for Children, Schools and Families
        Public Communications Unit
        Sanctuary Buildings
        Great Smith Street
        SW1P 3BT

        • Stiffit

          “192 playing fields have been sold out of total of over 20,000 schools (this is compared to an estimated 10,000 between 1979 and 1997)”

          So about 10,000 playing fields were sold off during the Thatcher (’79-’90) and Major (’90-’97) premierships. And now it’s Cameron’s turn to play with the national zapper, he’s wondering why there’s not so much outdoor sport going on.

      • Radford_NG

        11 Aug. c.12.20pm. BST…..Small local leisure centres and swimming baths in working class districts and average middle-class suburbs were closed-down long-before economic melt-down : places where groups of 12 year-old girls, with their little brothers,would walk to in the summer holidays.These closed in favour of big glossy centralised sports-centres where the Council Leaders could swank-around.

      • David Lindsay

        Football is the great exception to that: chavs (there ceased to be a working class when Margaret Thatcher the economic basis of one) performing like monkeys for the amuseent of the upper-middle-class people who can still afford the tickets.

        The slavering public school commentariat’s insistence that competitive sport was given up in state schools some time a generation or so ago (when the Conservatives were in government and exercising far tighter control over schools than hitherto, but never mind) is totally false in my experience and in that of everyone whom I have ever met. And where is this “no losers” ethos? It is something that public school people are taught to imagine by CCHQ Pravdas such as this magazine and 80 per cent of newspapers bought in this country.

        What we do all remember, however, is the flogging off of school fields. When the Conservatives were in government and exercising far tighter control over schools than hitherto. The academies so beloved of Michael Gove, his “free” schools being a form of them, are already being built with no outdoor space whatever, on the grounds that people are there, at those places of business, strictly in order to work. And remember that every school is eventually supposed to become one.

      • woolfiesmiff

        You don’t watch sport or know anything about it then Tele machus. Surely you MUST have listened to a least a couple of our winning athletes.

        It wasn’t playing field sales that killed state sport it was Labour/leftwing anti competitive ideology and all must win awards nonsense

  • woolfiesmiff

    Yes Fraser religion is important to athletes in the same way that their rabbits foot, wearing their “lucky” pants inside out, leaving the changing rooms last, not stepping on cracks in the pavement etc. Professional sports people are amongst the most superstitious people there are.

    If you want to know why top athletes are successful then Mo Farah nailed it, he said “anyone can succeed, you’ve just got to sacrifice everything and work really hard”.

    That and only that is the secret to success in any field.

    • John_Page

      Mo’s talking tosh – warmly enabling, but still tosh. It’s not true anyone can succeed, and he hasn’t sacrificed everything.

      • Spf50

        Very true, but I would also say athletes are not making ‘sacrifices’ anyway – they are making choices. How can not smoking or boozing possibly be a ‘sacrifice’, for example?

        • woolfiesmiff

          You’ve obviously never met a serious athlete

          • spf50

            I have, actually. And furthermore, i’ve competed against them. But that aside, what do you mean by your comment? If an athlete wants to be the best, they have to live their life differently from an average competitor like myself. They make the choice to do that. No one’s putting a gun to their head.

            • Dan Grover

              Why are you conflating “sacrifice” with “lack of choice”? Indeed, if it weren’t a choice, it wouldn’t even be a sacrifice. A sacrifice is when you choose a certain option in spite of the negative outcomes.

        • martinvickers

          Lord, you do make better fools every day – ALL sacrifices are choices – think about it, if you don’t choose to make it, it isn’t a sacrifice, it’s just something bad happening to you. If I ‘lay down my life for my friend” – I CHOOSE to do it – it’s a CHOICE. If I lay down my happiness for a far off goal, I CHOOSE to do it – it doesn’t stop it being a sacrifice – in fact, choice is the WHOLE POINT of sacrifice – deciding, CHOOSING to deny ourselves something pleasant for a greater good.

          Honestly, some people are so trigger happy here, i wonder do they have basic reasoning skills at all.

          And on the subject, Mr Farah denied himself rather more than some fags and beer.

      • woolfiesmiff

        Really, you base this statement on what? In every field I’ve ever come into contact with the people who succeed are the people who work at it the hardest. A man with no legs can succeed as a runner anyone can succeed if they work at something.

    • Daniel Maris

      Er no…you won’t find many Eskimos with a chance of winning the 5000 metres. You’ve got to have a naturally lean build to begin with.

    • Daniel Maris

      Er no…you won’t find many Eskimos with a chance of winning the 5000 metres. You’ve got to have a naturally lean build to begin with.

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