New ball game

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A figurine of the baby Jesus is pictured as Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve Mass. Photo: CNS, Vatican Media

Christians upset by Christmas fixture but Club stands by decision

Christian groups have condemned the Sydney Kings for its decision to become Australia’s first team to host a Christmas Day sporting fixture.

Breaking the final frontier of Aussie sport, the reigning NBL champions will host Melbourne United at Qudos Bank Arena on the evening of 25 December.

There will also be a game on Christmas Eve with the Adelaide 36ers and South East Melbourne Phoenix to face off at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

Christian groups have called for boycotts of competition sponsors including Hungry Jacks, K-mart and Bunnings, and labelled it a “blatant attempt to undermine and belittle the faith of Australian Christians”.

FamilyVoice CEO Greg Bondar said the scheduled game on Christmas Day, which is also a Sunday in 2022, is a slap on the face for Christianity.

“Can we please let Christians be Christians and afford them the respect that others are afforded.”

He said the NBL needed to take into account the welfare of players due to the Christmas Day fixture. “Having games scheduled on Christmas Day can have severe stress issues for players of faith,” he said.

“The NBL chairman says ‘we are a changing society’ and that ‘the innovation better reflected a diverse Australian society’ but has failed to factor in the fact that the NBL has numerous Christian players and followers who will be stifled from celebrating one of the most sacred days on the Christian calendar.

“The NBL seems to stand for ‘No Biblical Leanings’ given their actions.

“Can we please let Christians be Christians and afford them the respect that others are afforded.”

While he understands the attacks, Sydney Kings owner Paul Smith has defended the move in the wake of criticism, referencing several other ‘sacred days’ on the calendar. He told The Catholic Weekly that in an increasingly secular society, the religious aspect of the day was far less prevalent than it once was and provided an opportunity to connect those who would otherwise spend the day alone.

The Sydney Kings NBL team. Photo: Charlie Brewer/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
The Sydney Kings NBL team. Photo: Charlie Brewer/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

He said the club would be looking at partnering with a charitable organisation, including the Sydney Archdiocese, to enable those on the margins to attend.

“Our society has changed a lot, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day used to be sacrosanct, it’s an evolving community.

“We are holding the game on Christmas night as a way of not only promoting our sport but also promoting our sport as an opportunity to connect people and no player, coach or staff member will be forced to take part if it goes against their beliefs.

“I know there are a lot of lonely people out there and that Christmas can be a very emotional time.

“I honestly don’t think the world is going to end by us staging a Christmas Day game.”

“This won’t be a cure-all, it might provide people who are sitting at home missing their kids or experiencing whatever form of sadness something to do and not be alone.

“The Sydney Kings have a strong history of giving and while this is a whole new ball game for us, we are very excited about what we can do for others.

“Sure there are the cynics out there that are saying it is purely a money-making venture, but we know we are giving [to] people who otherwise might spend the day alone to have an option.

“I honestly don’t think the world is going to end by us staging a Christmas Day game.”

The festive fixture follows in the footsteps of the National Basketball Association in the US, where Christmas games have been commonplace for many years.