27 June 2012
Faith in the olympics
Duncan Green, head of the multi-faith chaplaincy service for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, says we’re all in this together…
An estimated five million foreign visitors will grace our shores as the world descends on the UK for The Games. Of those visiting and taking part in the contest, many will hold to a number of diverse different faiths; each with various religious requirements which need to be accommodated for.
The man in charge of making sure that this all goes smoothly is Canon Duncan Green, an Anglican priest who is head of the multi-faith chaplaincy for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Locog). It’s his job to cater for the nine different faith traditions represented at The Games – the Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jains and followers of the Bahai faith.
This is not as straightforward as it may seem. A hilarious scene in the BBC’s Twenty Twelve spoof earlier in the year showed the organising committee descending into chaos as the Algerians threatened to boycott the Games because the Shared Belief Centre did not face Mecca.
Duncan, who formed a faith reference group made up of the representatives of the UK’s nine largest religions when he started at Locog four and a half years ago, told idea that everyone was able to laugh at the BBC show’s religious pax.
“I can tell you that no such mistake will be made in the real thing,” he said. “We haven’t had to build a new wall.” In a world where religious dialogue can be fraught with tension, Duncan said good relationships have been built up with the reference group over the past few years.
“We’re not thinking about what we believe or what we don’t believe, but about how, together, we can serve the Olympic Games and add value to it.” Around 190 chaplains
from different faith communities are currently being trained ahead of The Games.
Essentially, the contest is an opportunity to break down cultural and religious divides. “Given the diversity of London and the rest of the UK, it is important for us to ensure that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are inclusive and involve all communities,” Duncan said. “All our plans for athletes, media, spectators and our workforce are developed with our
Faith Reference Group so that all faiths are represented. Everyone, whatever their religion or ethnic background, should feel they can play a part in the world’s greatest sporting events.”
Praising the work of More Than Gold in rallying the Christian community, Duncan said that this was an opportunity for everyone to get stuck in. “A big part of the population of the UK are sports-mad and faith communities should ignore this at their peril. It’s an opportunity to reach out to those people.”
For Duncan, formerly rector and dean of Saffron Walden, Essex, and seconded by the Church of England to his Locog post, it’s been a great adventure and very different from his parish life. “It’s been a very interesting experience and after The Games, we’ll all be looking for what to do next. Although I have missed my parish, I’ve found that Locog has become my parish. The contact with the people is the same – I’ve counselled and presided over weddings and funerals for colleagues here; and I’ll miss this too.”