Happenings, News

Sports and games foster religious harmony

National Council of Churches of Singapore hosts Community Engagement Games Day

SPORTS and games have always enjoyed a universal following. People engage in them and other physical activities for fun, recreation and even for health reasons. Recently, a Christian body appropriated such activities to serve another purpose – to foster inter-racial and inter-religious harmony.

The Christian body in question is the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS). On April 19, 2008, the NCCS hosted an inter-faith event that was unlike any it had ever held. Instead of a talk or a dialogue, it invited people from the different ethnic and religious communities to come together for a time of interaction, solely around sports and games.

The NCCS is a grouping of churches and all major denominations in Singapore. It is strongly committed to building religious and racial harmony and understanding. It encourages Christians to live in harmony with one another, following the teaching of the Bible.

Behind the Community Engagement Games Day, as the event was called, is the idea that sports and games can be an effective platform for promoting inter-racial and inter-religious harmony. The idea, as disclosed by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, the NCCS President, arose from observing that sports and recreational games are like “a passion that unites all of us”.

He explained: “When we all let down our hair, sweat it out together, there’s a natural bond that takes place. And once the friendship is formed, religious harmony will follow.”

The response to the Community Engagement Games Day far exceeded the organisers’ expectation when more than 1,000 people turned up at the Anglo- Chinese Junior College Sports Complex to take part.

Mr Andy Tan, a Christian, was among the enthusiastic participants. He had told a newspaper that “some of us may feel reluctant to go for serious discussions with people from other faiths, but sport is a good way to help us break out of our comfort zones”.

Was his sentiment shared by the others? It would appear so, judging from the spontaneity with which the participants mixed with one another and took to the activities.

There was no lack of activities on offer. Futsal, which is soccer played on a small scale, was the most popular.

Nearby, games such as limbo rock relay, triple challenge, inter-generational ball, and hip hop were being held. For the less physically inclined, a financial board game was available with promises of instantly turning the player into a savvy investor.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan who graced the event as the Guest-of-Honour, was clearly taking in everything that was happening around him. As Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports he had given his blessing to the games day when it was first proposed to the National Steering Committee for Religious and Racial Harmony for endorsement. His ministry had been quick to render practical support and general assistance.

As he ended his tour of the games stations he was prevailed upon to play a friendly game of Inter-Generation Ball. His opponents were Bishop Dr Solomon and Archbishop John Chew, while the Ven Seck Kwang Phing of the Singapore Buddhist Federation played for his side. It was a rare sight indeed to see a Cabinet minister sweating it out with three men of the cloth.

The event ended with the “passing of the baton” by the NCCS to the Taoist Federation which had agreed to host the next Community Engagement Games Day. Many of the participants will, no doubt, be looking forward to the next Games Day.

Mr Lim K Tham is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.