"In this football world it is really tough" - Indonesia's Arthur Irawan

Everyone aspires to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo, but behind the top crop of elite players who grace our screens, there are thousands of footballers simply making their way in the game.

In a Planet Sport exclusive we caught up with Indonesia international and Persija Jakarta defender, Arthur Irawan, who spoke about his career path and the experience he has had, in professional football. This man has represented his country and been signed by a team in the Premier League, La Liga and the Indonesian Liga 1.

As a young teen he was a sharp talent who was quickly sized up by European giants Manchester United, out of the blue:

I was in an academy and this coach sent some of his best boys to England for some trial games. There was a Manchester United scout there who happened to be watching my game, he came up to me and asked me some questions, my parents were there too actually. He said that if I was to move here (to the UK) then I could play in the United academy. This was when I was thirteen, my parents weren’t so keen but two years later I took up on the offer.”

After this opportunity of a lifetime, Arthur was unable to obtain a work permit to play competitively in England, so had to settle for living life on the fringes at his new club.

Arthur, is a man very grateful for the opportunity, in his eyes as one door closes, another opens:

“I went to Spain for some trials, including Espanyol. So I ended up signing four years with them before I moved to Malaga. I have been through a lot of places, which is a blessing in itself from God, it’s not the typical footballer’s route, especially coming from where I do, but I don’t believe in luck, I believe in destiny. Every problem that I have faced, there has been a door to go through.”

Destiny not luck. Arthur accredits every high and low very closely to his belief in God. This is what enabled him to accept that he couldn’t remain a Red Devil and then jump into the trials with La Liga outfits Malaga and Espanyol. A move that ultimately gave him the best years of his footballing education.

Currently, still only 24, he plays back home in Indonesia and is helping to raise the profile of Liga 1, which is now attracting top players such as Michael Essien (ex-Chelsea), Carlton Cole (ex-West Ham) and Didier Zokora (ex-Tottenham).

When asked would he be where he is today without his faith:

“No, no chance, imagine you have nothing to work for, where do you find the sense to get out bed in the morning and go train? In this football world it is really tough, you’ve just got to not doubt and trust in God.”

'Faith plays a big role in my life'

On our latest Planet Sport programme, we talk to Ruhan Nel (above), from the South Africa Rugby 7s side that recently won the 2016/17 World Series title about his rugby and faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. He told us how important his faith is to him and about the role it plays in his life.

We also hear from Indonesian International footballer Arthur Irawan. As a young boy growing up in Indonesia Irawan dreamed of one day playing football in Europe. In his teens he was spotted by a football scout and joined the Manchester United Youth Academy where he made a good impression. With tight work permit controls Arthur was unable to play competitive football in England so went to Spain before returning to Indonesia where he now plays for Persija Jakarta. He talks to us about his life and career in football. 

Listen to the programme here: 




Humble Beginnings: Bayern Munich's Sammy Kuffour

As this year’s UEFA Champions League Final draws ever closer, football fans from around the globe are itching to see who will stride out in competition for the Cup.  Will it be a clash of the titans as Real Madrid and Juventus battle it out together? 

A man who knows only too well about the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with a Champions League final is Sammy Kuffour.  The former Bayern Munich and Ghana defender has seen it all. We recently caught up with the man himself to talk about his tough start in life and how things were transformed by the beautiful game.  

Kuffour, raised in Accra, Ghana, spoke of his humble beginnings and the strain that everyday living had on the family: 

“We were living in an uncompleted house, my upbringing was tough. My father was nowhere to be found and my mother would wake up early to do her job.” 

His desire to play football was clear, but before school he would shine the neighbours’ shoes, going door to door.  Attending school at that point was just a necessity.  

“Whatever you set your eyes on, with your faith behind you, you can achieve”, he said, never losing sight of his real ambitions. His mother was supportive and encouraged Sammy to ‘do what pleased him’.  When he made the Ghana U17 squad this resulted in his mother selling the family TV so that she could buy Sammy some football boots! 

He told us about the change professional football made to his life and how his faith in God was growing in strength alongside. He recounts the U17 World Cup triumph over Spain in 1991 with his beloved Ghana, then later signing for European heavyweights Bayern Munich. Talking of the change in his life the former defender stated: 

“People may doubt you but nothing happens by accident, God knows why it happened like that. God is God and we have to respect him.” 

Fellow players were surprised at the sight of him kneeling down in prayer, before his debut in the Bundesliga against Stuttgart, teammates that would become his close friends, particularly those who shared his faith, Brazilian icons Jorginho and Ze Roberto.   

He would go on to play 175 times for Munich and spent twelve years contracted to the club, an emphatic rise from a shoe-shine boy.  

When asked about his Champions League final experiences he has contrasting tales, first of a hurtful defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the '99 final. However, two years later he lifted the trophy second time around. This is his take: 

“It wasn’t our day, I was hurt, but two years later I had my hands on the trophy which tells you that there is a time and a season for everything. In life you can never doubt God, he can turn things around. Everything is possible for him.” 

Kuffour has always remained fully grounded in his faith in God and knows where the credit lies, on and off the pitch. 

His advice is simple, “Give God a chance to come into your life and see what he can do for you, God knows better than we do in all circumstances so we should just rely on him.”

London Marathon 2017 Special

London Marathon 2017 elite men's and women's winners Daniel Wanjiru (above left) and Mary Keitany (above right) from Kenya.

London Marathon 2017 elite men's and women's winners Daniel Wanjiru (above left) and Mary Keitany (above right) from Kenya.

The London Marathon took place last weekend seeing thousands of runners and spectators take to the streets of the UK's capital. In a special Planet Sport programme, we hear from some of those participants and spectators and talk to the winners of the men's and women's elite races, Daniel Wanjiru and Mary Keitany from Kenya and pre-race favourite Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia about running the second fastest marathon of all time last September in Berlin and his career highlights including world records and Olympic titles. 

We also hear from two top Kenyan athletes, who talk about their anger and disappointment following the suspension of last year's London Marathon winner and 2016 Olympic champion, Jemima Sumgong following a doping offence.

You can listen to the programme, here:

Memories from Athens to Beijing

This year, Passion for Sport is looking back at 25 years of broadcasting from major sporting events. The mission of Passion for Sport is to use media to introduce sports fans to Jesus. This started out as producing radio programmes but today also includes content for social media and online platforms as well.

Passion for Sport media teams at major sporting events provide reports, interviews and special interest pieces such as insights into the local culture and particularly what followers of Jesus are doing to share their faith. The team can often be made up of a mix of nationalities, producing programmes in different languages for different broadcast partners. This can bring its challenges along with technical and practical issues.

Clayton Bjelan broadcasts from his ironing board!

Clayton Bjelan broadcasts from his ironing board!

Clayton Bjelan from Australia remembers joining the media team for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. They were all living and working in a tiny apartment, resulting in Clayton broadcasting from an ironing board!

Part of Clayton’s role involved doing phone pieces for nine radio stations back home starting at 4:30 in the morning - much to the ‘delight’ of the others still trying to sleep. “My now infamous start to each break - “Live from Beijing!” – haunts many a person’s dreams, I’m sure,” he surmises.

Andy Atkinson from the UK was on the media team for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. He remembers: “We were going to a country where people have not seen a lot of people with a disability. While we were there everyone treated me like royalty. They were asking if I needed help or if they could help me. As an independent person, I found this very heard to deal with.”

This wasn’t Andy’s first experience of the Passion for Sport media team as he had previously raised his own funds to join the team reporting from the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004. Also on the team for the first time was Pete Ellis (below left) who remembers:

“A team of five of us, three of whom were disabled, took on the challenge of getting around the often congested and not very well maintained streets of the city with a wheelchair and prosthetic limbs. We were based in a church building in Athens with a makeshift shower block, camp beds in Sunday school rooms and lots of stairs! Each morning we prayed together for the day’s events and trusted that God would lead us to the right people to interview.”

Unfortunately the Paralympic Games were not very well attended by the world’s media, however that gave the Passion for Sport media team more opportunities for access to venues and athletes. “Our journalists did a very professional job of getting on the court at the end of one particular basketball match to get some great interviews with the athletes, and photos alongside them with gold medals and victor’s headbands,” remembers Pete.

The 2004 Paralympic Games proved to be a life-changing experience for Andy (right). “After I came back from Athens, I was hooked on radio work and how God can reach people through radio. I volunteered for Christian radio producers HCJB (now Reach Beyond) in Bradford, working as an editor on their radio show. I did that for three years.”

It also made an impression on Pete: “Interviews from Paralympians are especially powerful because of the additional obstacles they have had to overcome in their lives as well as the hard work that any athlete has to put in to be the best in their sport. It was a great privilege to see them in action and to hear what they had to say.” 

'I grew so much in my faith'

Passion for Sport is looking back over 25 years of reporting from major sporting events such as the Olympic Games, Fifa World Cup™, All Africa Games, the Commonwealth Games and World Athletics Championships to name just a few.

The Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 was the first major sporting event when a team of Christians worked together to produce radio programmes about sport with a Christian perspective. Passion for Sport grew out of this with its mission to use media to introduce sports fans to Jesus.

French language programme producer, Vivian Dinan (below left) looks back on his time in the media team at various events with joy and gratitude, saying: 

“Those who led the teams at these different events contributed a lot towards me being able to cherish those priceless moments . . . Their inspired leadership, their human relations approach and their professionalism made things easier, particularly when I had to go to bed very late because I had to upload reports and woke up early to attend events. I also appreciated the daily morning briefings, where we first listened to what God had to say to us through the sharing of the word by one of the team members and then take note of the tasks for the day.”

Taurai Manonge, a video cameraman who joined the team for a week during the London 2012 Olympics made a similar comment: 

“Working with other believers, sharing the faith and encouraging each other in the Lord, while enjoying one of the greatest sporting spectacles was indeed a prayer answered. I grew so much in my faith during that week and seeing the commitment and dedication of the other members who chose to serve God using their profession was a great testimony to me.”

Members of the media team have opportunities to interview top sportsmen and women, officials and fans but also the dignitaries attending the events. Vivian recalls such opportunities:

“I had the privilege at the London Olympics to interview Mr Francois Hollande, the French President. At the Beijing Olympics, I interviewed the President of the Republic of Mauritius, Sir Anerood Jugnauth. In Maputo, Mozambique I had the privilege to interview the Minister of Sport of Congo Brazzaville, Mr Léon-Alfred Opimbat. I also met and interviewed the former President of the IAAF, Mr Lamine Diack.”

As well as getting on with the job of reporting from the event and producing radio programmes, the times together as a team are special, and it seems Vivian has some memorable episodes:

Solomon Ashoms (left) and Vivian Dinan (right).

Solomon Ashoms (left) and Vivian Dinan (right).

“My time . . . allowed me also to work alongside some wonderful team mates. One of them is dear to my heart – Solomon Ashoms. He has always been my room-mate and also my driver! He drove me from Johannesburg, South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique, for the All Africa Games in 2012. A trip of four hours but which took us more than eight hours. My dear driver lost directions! I must admit the return trip was much better.

“Another team mate dear to me is Pedro Arias, our Spanish language reporter. Each time we were on the team, we had fun exploring together what we think was the best place to eat. In Beijing I guess we missed our target. I think we ate dog meat in one place!”

Donate today to support Passion for Sport at major sporting events!

Celebrating 25 years!

Summer 2017 marks 25 years since the radio partnership that grew into Passion for Sport reported from its first major sporting event, the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Since then Passion for Sport has reported from a variety of events including the Olympic and Paralympic Games, FIFA World Cup, All Africa Games, Commonwealth Games and the World Athletics Championship.

The media teams at each of these events have been made up from a variety of people, nationalities and skills. Some are staff, others volunteers or freelancers – many giving up their time and funding themselves to be involved. As a media team, they gather interviews from sportsmen and women, officials and fans, as well as local churches and Christians who view the events as outreach opportunities. The team produce programmes and then upload them to our dedicated website for broadcasters to access so they can use the material, as well as to our own website - www.planetsport.tv – for listeners to access online.

With now a quarter of a century of reporting from major sporting events, we asked some of those who have been in our media teams for their memories of their time with Passion for Sport, and over the next couple of weeks we will be sharing them with you.

Today Norman Brierley, a regular Passion for Sport reporter, looks back particularly on the All Africa Games.

“At the Africa Games, we had much easier access to athletes for interviews although technically we had greater difficulty in getting our recorded and live material back to the centre for distribution to stations.

A storm leaves the Velodrome roof in tatters at the All Africa Games in 2003.

A storm leaves the Velodrome roof in tatters at the All Africa Games in 2003.

“I remember well the Abuja, Nigeria All Africa Games in 2003 when the velodrome canvas awning was ripped apart one night by a devastating storm! We didn’t have internet access at our main centre of operations but just down the road there was a satellite link to the internet which we were able to use – when it worked.

“Nigerian roads are always full of people and vehicles and it was quite a task getting to the stadium each day. However, access into all venues, athletes and even on the sacred soil of the main stadium to celebrate the occasion was relatively easy. At the Maputo, Mozambique All Africa Games in 2011 journalists were actually surrounding the basketball court as all the seats in the auditorium were taken by spectators!”

Passion for Sport uses media to introduce sports fans to Jesus and Norman remembers when he first took hold of the evangelistic opportunity that sport broadcasting offers.

“My first introduction to using sport as a platform for spreading the gospel was at the India Ocean Games in Victoria, Seychelles in 1993 where Feba Radio started Creole broadcasts to Mauritius; we produced a nightly 30-minutes results-based programme with interviews.

“Then two years later came a much broader involvement by various groups, in using sport in Christian broadcasting, at the All Africa Games in Harare, Zimbabwe, in September 1995. I feel that Passion for Sport must have initially instigated this in some way. Several Christian organisations joined together, hosted by Feba Radio and in co-operation with the BBC, and were able to broadcast sports interviews and features over the Zimbabwe government radio stations in several local languages including English. We were also able to have a greater Africa-wide television outreach over CBN’s 700 Club.

“That was the beginning of an association with Passion for Sport over succeeding years at major sporting events such as further Africa Games, Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

“Reporting from an African sporting occasion is full of fun and incidents, and there seems to be a natural camaraderie and repartee between athlete and reporter. Many athletes would share their faith in Jesus in a very natural and convincing way and this was not only evident in their words but also by their faces.

“Our goal on every occasion is to obtain interviews with athletes who have ‘something to say’ from a spiritual perspective. When we are able to sit down with an athlete and dig a little deeper, beyond the sporting aspect of their lives, nuggets of gold are realised. This was my experience when interviewing the 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m gold medallist, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (right) from Jamaica. The ‘Pocket Rocket’ as she was known, bubbly and full of life expressed the joy of knowing her Saviour very clearly. This interview can be heard in the latest Planet Sport programme, following the announcement that she’ll be missing the World Championships this summer as she’s pregnant.

Passion for Sport has not only been introducing sports fans to Jesus through the testimonies of Christian athletes, it has also been challenging athletes themselves to think carefully about a lasting relationship with their Maker.”

By Norman Brierley

Fifa President 'optimistic' about African football

“When it comes to African football I’m very optimistic from what I’ve seen. For me, it has been, from the beginning one of the priorities.” 

So says Fifa President Gianni Infantino, successor to Sepp Blatter and in the role for a year now, when he was in Zimbabwe recently as part of his African tour. Planet Sport Football Africa producer Steve Vickers (who’s based in Harare) had the opportunity to ask him about his vision for African football, leading Infantino to list a number of positive developments. 

Fatma Samoura was appointed to the position of Fifa Secretary General last year.

Fatma Samoura was appointed to the position of Fifa Secretary General last year.

First he mentioned Fatma Samoura from Senegal who was appointed to the position of Fifa Secretary General last year saying she “has international experience and experience in development programmes in general which will help the football development.”

He then went on to mention the Fifa Council, which shapes the sport around the world. “We have increased the number of members from Africa in the Fifa Council from four to seven . . . This gives more voice and more inclusion to the African membership.” Another increase on the horizon is the number of teams participating in the World Cup™. Currently Africa has five teams but with the final number still to be decided upon, it is clear that come 2026 it will be more than they have now.

Most significantly is the increase in financial investment that Fifa is making in African football, from $27 million a year to $94 million a year, for football projects in African Football Associations. Investment available to each Federation has increased five-fold from $250,000 a year to $1,250,000 a year.

Infantino with Zifa president Phillip Chiyangwa (right) and Zimbabwe Sports Minister Makhosini Hlongwane.

Infantino with Zifa president Phillip Chiyangwa (right) and Zimbabwe Sports Minister Makhosini Hlongwane.

Infantino finished by saying: “I’m really convinced that when I see the passion that there is in this continent for football, if we manage to put some structures and channelling a little bit of this passion, with a little bit of work and goodwill, the results will be fantastic. And we are already seeing some of that.”

To hear Solomon Ashoms, Planet Sport Football Africa football analyst, consider whether Infantino will be good for African football, and FIfa Secretary General Fatma Samoura speak about developing women’s football in Africa, listen to Planet sport Football Africa programme 10th March 2017:

'I'm still a seeker'

Andy Searles.jpg

Andy Searles is chaplain at Major League Soccer side Orlando City in Florida, United States. In part one of our interview with him, he compared his role as chaplain with others at the club saying: “It’s the coach’s or the manager’s job to help the players win on the field and it’s my job to help the players win off the field.”

As well as Bible Studies for the players and a chapel service before each game, Andy also offers pastoral care and some counselling services. As a pastor of a church north of Orlando, he sees his work with Orlando City as an extension of his church ministry, which leads us to ask, in the second part of our interview, about his own journey to faith.

“I became a follower of Christ when I was 15 years old. I was brought up in the church. My Dad, who I love dearly, was a minister but the church didn’t have too much attraction to me.”

He goes on to paint an all-too-familiar picture of church in the UK with ageing congregations, concluding, “I found church kind of boring.” But attending church should not be confused with developing a personal relationship with the living God.

“One day I just heard this man – Jesus – talked about in a way that never clicked with me as it did in that moment, and I realised that I had to make a decision. If the claims of Christ were true, if he really loved me, if he really forgave me, if he really had a plan for me then this wasn’t something that could be ignored. So I said: ‘OK God, let me delve a little it deeper. Let’s see what this means. If you’re real, show yourself to me.’ And in some amazing ways he did.”

“I’m still a seeker. I’m still trying to discover more and more of him. I’m in my early 40s now and there is not a day that has passed where I haven’t experienced the presence and the peace and the power of God in my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Listen to more of Andy’s interview, when he also answers the question – Is God interested in football?

Listen to part one of the interview.

No glory without hard work

Müller International Grand Prix at the Birmingham Barclays Indoor Arena (Credit: British Athletics/Getty Images).

Müller International Grand Prix at the Birmingham Barclays Indoor Arena (Credit: British Athletics/Getty Images).

If ever an athletics event came alive surely this Müller International Grand Prix at the Birmingham Barclays Indoor Arena did. Forty eight Personal Bests and fourteen National Records were set in a four-hour period on Saturday 18th. February.

We were not disappointed as the expected fireworks in both the Women's 1000m and the Men's 5000 metres materialised.

Laura Muir from Scotland in the 1000 metres was paced over 800 metres by Jenny Meadows and went on to gain her European and National Record of 2:31.93 minutes – only one second away from the World Record.

Olympic 5000 & 10000 metres Champion Sir Mo Farah (Credit: British Athletics/Getty Images).

Olympic 5000 & 10000 metres Champion Sir Mo Farah (Credit: British Athletics/Getty Images).

Not to be outdone, Sir Mo Farah, after a disappointing Edinburgh cross-country six weeks earlier, had a 5000 metres race on his hand with the Bahrainian Albert Rop hounding Mo to the line in a National Record time of 13:09.16 minutes – a race where the first four obtained National Records for their respective countries.   

Another race which produced twelve Personal Bests was the Women's 3000 metres. Hellen Obiri of Kenya, a consistent middle-distance runner, came good with a National Record of 8:29.41 minutes.

Our appetite for the outdoor season was further whetted by the explosive running of the Jamaican Elaine Thompson, Olympic Champion at both 100 and 200 metres, and who seems to be improving on each outing. She gained her Personal Best and Stadium Record of 6.98 seconds for the 60 metres.

Olympic Long Jump Champion Jeff Henderson (Credit: British Athletics/Getty Images).

Olympic Long Jump Champion Jeff Henderson (Credit: British Athletics/Getty Images).

There were many other outstanding displays that gave the capacity crowd of 15800 something to shout about and yet each of the athletes I interviewed (including Laura Muir, Sir Mo Farah, Hellen Obiri, Jeff Henderson, Aries Merritt and Godfrey Khotso Mokoena) indicated their efforts and laurels only came about through hard work. Unless they do the hard work and put in the miles and dedicate themselves to the techniques required then they do not achieve their goals.

And even then things don't come easy. Every athlete goes through injury problems. Others struggle with their run-ups. Still some have huge family disappointments. Major health issues disrupt a number and yet they still press on! What determination, perseverance, stick-ability, and some even cry out to God in their situation and He answers!  

Both last week's Planet Sport and this week's programme bring perspectives on the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham:  

By Norman Brierley

Winning off the field

Orlando City Soccer Club chaplain Andy Searles prays with some of the MLS side's players.

Orlando City Soccer Club chaplain Andy Searles prays with some of the MLS side's players.

In his role as chaplain at Major League Soccer side, Orlando City, in Florida, United States, Andy Searles confesses that no two days are the same. So what does a chaplain do, and in the big money world of professional football, does having a chaplain really add value to what goes on at a soccer club? Adrian Barnard seeks to find answers in the first part of his interview for Planet Sport.

“I think I would define the primary thing that I do as trying to offer some player care,” is how Andy sees his role.

“That expresses itself in many ways,” he continues. “For some of the faith-based players and those who are followers of Jesus, there’s some pastoral care, we have some Bible studies and we have a chapel service before each game in the locker room. But I also offer some services beyond that, to those who maybe aren’t of faith at this time, or have got issues. I offer some counselling services, some support on really anything they need.”

Andy is a pastor, leading a church in Casselberry, just north of Orlando with his chaplain’s work sitting alongside it. 

“I consider my work with Orlando City as an extension of my ministry in the church and in the community where I serve on a regular basis.”

But in the very commercial of Major League Soccer where there is huge investment and a vast number of people involved in the club, what does a chaplain contribute?

“It’s the coach’s job or the manager’s job to help the players win on the field and it’s my job to help the players win off the field.”

“I hope that I’m able to remind the players and the staff, and even the fans on occasion, that there is a life that is really important and that really matters – outside of the game. I hope that I can remind the players that relationships are important, that their family matters, that one day they won’t be playing soccer and what they do with the rest of their life is crucially important to them.”

“I find myself mentoring a lot and just trying to be an encouraging presence towards the things off the field. You need to remember that a lot of these men are very young and they have a pretty big spotlight on them. They probably have more money in their bank accounts than we do. And while many in the world would say that’s a great thing, to have that fame and the money, and everything that comes with that, I think that the gospel says that those two things can cause a lot of trouble, a lot of temptation. Perhaps my job is to help these guys manage those responsibilities in ways that are beneficial to them and their families and their faith over the long haul.”

Andy grew up in England and continues supporting Ipswich Town FC despite now living in the USA. He speaks from personal experience of how football can take over a life.

“Football was such an integral part of my life growing up and perhaps to my shame, to my sin, soccer became kind of like an idol to me. If we [Ipswich] won, everything was great in my world; if we lost, it wasn’t. One of the things that happened was that I moved to the US and couldn’t keep up with soccer as much, that idol was starved within me. So I now kind of feel that God is allowing me to minister into a fallen idol and it’s great to be engaged with the game again.”

Listen to Part 1 of Adrian’s interview with Andy, here:  

Part two of the interview will feature in the Planet Sport programme 2/3/2017 when Andy shares his own journey to faith and tells us why he’s chaplain at Orlando City, when the role is as an unpaid volunteer.

'High expectations' for Indoor Grand Prix

20-year old Trayvon Bromell will be competing in Birmingham at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix.

20-year old Trayvon Bromell will be competing in Birmingham at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix.

Last weekend in Sheffield, British Athletics hosted successful British Indoor Athletics Championships and team trials, with a mixture of new and old faces coming through the represent their country at international level.

This Saturday, athletes from the USA, Europe, Australasia and Africa will meet at the Barclay Arena in Birmingham for the Müller Indoor Grand Prix. Passion for Sport reporter Norman Brierley will be there. He writes:

“In past years we have experienced exceptional competition where national and world indoor records have been set. I remember well the efforts of Sir Mo Farah in 2015 as he broke the Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele’s world 2-mile record in a time of 8 minutes 3.40 seconds.

“The expectations of athletes at these events have been quite challenging. Kevin Craddock a 60 metres American hurdler held on for dear life in the 2016 event, as he sensed he wouldn’t get through his heat but eventually came second in the final in a time of 7.71 seconds. 

“The young 20-year old Trayvon Bromell showed his metal in the 2015 Beijing World Athletics Championships in the 100 metres by taking the Bronze medal behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Expectations were high for him last year but he was injured in the warm up and could not compete. However, in spite of injuries Trayvon knows his life is in God’s hands. 

“Many Rio Olympic champions and stars are now confirmed to compete alongside some of the best athletes in the world at the state-of-the-art Barclay Arena this weekend.

“Britain’s top female sprinter, Dina Asher-Smith will face the double Olympic champion, Elaine Thompson of Jamaica over 60 metres in what will be a spectacular clash.

“Expectations are high once again as we look forward to an attempt being made at the 1,000 metres British record and possibly the World record. Laura Muir from Scotland is in top form and just last month smashed the British 5,000 metres indoor record by 14 seconds in a new time of 14 minutes 49.13 seconds.”

Don’t miss next week’s Planet Sport programme as we reflect back on what is sure to be a sensational Müller Indoor Grand Prix.

AFCON 2017: David v Goliath All Over Again

For the past three weeks fans of African football have been gripped by the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

There was drama right from the off.  Even before a ball had been kicked the Cameroon team was in disarray after several high-profile players refused to turn out for their national side. When the tournament did get underway there was concern at the poor quality of the playing surfaces and the low crowds, apart from when the hosts, Gabon, were in action.

Planet Sport Football Africa producer Steve Vickers was in Gabon, providing television commentary for the tournament organisers, CAF.  This enabled him to produce the show from the tournament, providing comment and analysis for our listeners from this top African football competition.

Planet Sport Football Africa listeners fully embraced the tournament and engaged with us enthusiastically on social media.  Listeners in The Gambia, which did not reach the finals, put their allegiance behind neighbours Senegal, who were led from the front by Liverpool’s talismanic striker, Sadio Mané.  

There were shocks galore.  Defending champions Ivory Coast, failed to qualify from the Group stage, as did highly-rated Algeria, despite having Leicester City’s 2015/16 PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez, in their ranks.  Many observers now tipped Senegal to win but the applecart was upset once again when The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon beat them in a tense penalty shoot-out.

Seven-times winners, Egypt, progressed to the final at the expense of Burkina Faso after another dramatic penalty shoot-out while little-fancied Cameroon joined them after an impressive 2-0 semi-final win against Ghana.  

And so it was that The Indomitable Lions met The Pharoahs in the final in Libreville and it was Cameroon who triumphed, coming from behind to record a 2-1 victory, scoring the winner just two minutes from time.  It was a wonderful story of the underdog overcoming the favourite, a true David v Goliath sporting story.  Afterwards Cameroon’s Belgian coach Hugo Broos said of his squad: “I don’t have 23 players, I have 23 friends.”  He added, “Over the weeks we went from being a squad to becoming a family. It's unbelievable what all the guys did. It is tremendous."

Our listeners thought so too.

“Oh yeah, Cameroon, champions of Africa!  They really deserved it, credit to them,” said Jamba from the Gambia.

And many like Alfred in Malawi agreed it had been a terrific tournament.  “This year’s AFCON was so good since Bukina Faso surprised many and Cameroon’s return to winning the Championship is a great encouragement.”

Planet Sport Football Africa reflects our aim to introduce sports fans to Jesus through media.  During the Cup of Nations our programmes included interviews with Christian players, such as the former Cameroon midfielder, Eyong Enoh, who shared his experiences of playing in the Cup of Nations and spoke eloquently about the difference that Jesus has made in his life. You can listen to that programme here:

By Adrian Barnard

Planet Sport Football Africa appeal

My name is Gabriel Ajala and I am a new trustee of Passion for Sport. Born and raised in London to Nigerian parents, I truly believe in what the team is doing in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ via the means of sport and media. And I am so thankful those who faithfully remember the ministry in prayer and with financial support.

I am an avid follower of sports, especially football. I played for England School boys at Under 15 & Under 17 level, which gave me a fantastic insight into being a professional football player. We toured Hungary, which taught me many things such as the importance of getting together as a team and the discipline footballers have in order to be the best they can be. In truth, my performances could have been better, but the memories and experience was worthwhile. Training at Lilleshall, which was at the time the centre where footballers came to train and stay before an international game, with top coaches and playing against quality opposition, was an experience I would never forget.

Although I didn't manage to make a career in professional football I transferred my skills to gain further knowledge on the business principles of sport. With a degree in Economics & Law, I then embarked upon a Masters in Sports Management & The Business of Football. The African sports market was a main focus of mine and in searching the internet to find relevant content, I came across Planet Sport Football Africa

Planet Sport Football Africa is a weekly, 30-minute programme for football fans in and from Africa, and is broadcast on over 50 stations in 14 African countries, as well as heard online. 

The show was like a breath of fresh air, a quality production with insightful content on unique topics, which affect the African sports market and culture, such as juju and the strong "religious" links in society.

After a few months of listening to the show, I applied for a vacancy as a trustee for Passion for Sport and was welcomed to the team a month later. 

Passion for Sport is unique in that it focuses on aspects of sport, both on and off the field, and always seeks to engage with their audience and fans. Sport is such a powerful tool to change an environment and unite people and by using this tool to spread the Good News of Jesus is powerful.

Listen to the latest Planet Sport and Planet Sport Football Africa programmes.

Passion for Sport is entirely dependent on donations from in individuals, churches and trusts. Please, if you are able, make a donation today to support this ministry.

By Gabriel Ajala

Answered prayer for The Gambia

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

“Thank you very much Planet Sport. I really appreciate your prayers. I am very grateful about you people.  

“As you know due to this political crisis it is unfortunate that I’m not even enjoying the African Cup of Nations. I’m in my house watching all the games but unfortunately I am watching without any happiness. I am watching with a scare because the situation recently in The Gambia is unpredictable…” (An excerpt from a voice message from a listener to Planet Sport Football Africa in the Gambia.)

Last week, we asked our supporters to join us in prayer for our listeners in The Gambia – about 150 are regularly in touch mostly via WhatApp. The difficult political situation and troops entering the country made many Gambians fearful of what lay ahead. 

On Friday 20th January, we sent a message to each of our WhatsApp contacts in The Gambia, which said: 

“Hi [Name], Just to say on behalf of the Planet Sport Football Africa team our thoughts and prayers are with you and all our friends in The Gambia today. While we are enjoying the AFCON [Africa Cup of Nations] tournament, we are also praying for a peaceful and just resolution to the situation in your country.”

To date (27th January), we have received over 100 responses, including the voice message, a sign of the growing and deepening relationships that we have with these contacts. We are so encouraged to see our communication with listeners develop beyond the programmes, and we are grateful that we could stand with them in prayer.

Thank God that a peaceful resolution to the situation in the country was reached. Below is a selection of messages in chronological order and you can see how they change from concern to relief as negotiations progressed. 

“Thank you so much team Planet Sport for all your concern about the political situation in the Gambia. We hope all our prayers will be answered soon. Once again big thank you to team Planet Sport for their great concern about the crisis in the Gambia.” 

“Thanks for your concern and prayers my dearest Planet Sport.” 

“Your prayers have been answered with the help of God. We have a peaceful transfer of power without no war.” 

Listen to this week's Planet Sport Football Africa:

Sammy Kuffour: 'God has been amazing to me'

Bayern Munich's Samuel Kuffour kisses the European Cup after the Champions League final at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, May 23, 2001.  (REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo)

Bayern Munich's Samuel Kuffour kisses the European Cup after the Champions League final at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, May 23, 2001.  (REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo)

"I carried a TV on my head, with my Mum. We went to some place and give the TV to somebody and get the money to buy football shoes."

Raised in Kumasi, Ghana, the youngest child of a single parent family with three older sisters, Samuel Kuffour had humble beginnings where money was tight. During his school days, Sammy shined shoes to bring in some money.

"As a boy I would have to carry my shine box and go house to house and shine people's shoes before I go to school. Some of the people that I shine their shoes, we all go to the same school, and also the same class."

As the only boy in the family, his sisters especially hoped that he would become a lawyer or a doctor, but school wasn't his first priority.

"I didn't have any feeling going to school. I wanted to go out there on the street and play football."

His mother's belief in his footballing ability led her not only to defend his choices to his sisters, but also to lying about the whereabouts of the TV, saying it was at the repairers. Sammy remembers:

"After that, my Mum tell all the area neighbours, 'Oh today Samuel will score a goal.' God is so good – I scored a goal for Ghana and we get the money. So I have to buy another TV, a bigger one, to replace what we sold."

Becoming a successful footballer meant that Samuel could put the tough days behind him but not everything was forgotten as he was brought up in a Christian home and continues in his faith, attributing his success to God.

"God has been amazing to me. If I said, 'he hasn't done it' then I don't know what I'm talking about. He has done amazing things for me."   

Signing for Bayern Munich and playing for Ghana didn't mean that it was all plain sailing however. There were losses – both personal and professional. 

The most notable professional loss was against Manchester United in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final, when Man United produced a stunning late comeback, causing heartbreak for Bayern Munich. But two years later Bayern Munich won the UEFA Champions League against Valencia on penalties.

Kuffour looks back on the 1999 loss, saying: "Everything has its own time. It wasn't our day. It would be in the eyes of the people but not in the eyes of the Lord. God knows better than we do. I was crying. I was hurt. But he didn’t hesitate anything from me. Exactly two years after, I had my hands on the trophy. So it tells you that there is a time and a season."

Personal loss struck in 2003 with the tragic death of Kuffour's young daughter, Godiva, who drowned in the family swimming pool. Kuffour had just returned to Bayern Munich when the call came through and he flew back to the family home in Ghana. 

"I was crying. I was asking questions to God. I asked God so many questions. 'Why me?' I asked God, 'Why me, that my daughter has to die?' 'Why me, God, why me?' I was crying, asking God questions but I was asking myself a question, 'why not you?'… Look at you, look at your career, look at what you have achieved in your life, look at the properties you have, look at what you have achieved. Why not you?"

Kuffour retired from football in 2009 and is now a football pundit with TV channel SuperSport in South Africa. His two sons, born after Godiva's death, are following in their father's footballing footsteps.

"These children are really doing amazing. They are also footballers now... And you know for me, if I see them playing, I always say to God, 'Glory to God'. Because the children I never expected to get them and God provided them to me and I know they will be better than me in the future."

Listen to a three-part interview with Sammy talking about his football and faith on Planet Sport Football Africa, from our archive programmes dated 4th 11th and 18th November 2016.

Samuel Kuffour career:

  • Played for Bayern Munich in Germany for 11 seasons, making 175 appearances.

  • Won UEFA Champions League final in 2001

  • Was runner-up to Manchester United in UEFA Champions League final in 1999

  • Won BBC African Footballer of the Year award in 2001

  • Made 59 appearance for Ghana's Senior team

  • Is the youngest Olympic football medallist of all time, winning bronze at the 1992 Olympics at the age of just 15.

AFCON 2017 Kicks Off

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

Africa’s biggest national football competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, or AFCON, gets underway in Gabon on Saturday as the hosts meet Guinea-Bissau at 5pm local time in the capital, Libreville.

This is the 31st edition of the tournament that happens every two years and Ivory Coast will be defending the title they won two years ago in Equatorial Guinea.

Players seen regularly in the English Premier League will be representing their countries at AFCON. Liverpool striker Sadio Mané will be playing for the Teranga Lions of Senegal, the Desert Foxes of Algeria are pinning their hopes on influential Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez and Crystal Palace winger Wilfrid Zaha is looking to make an impact for The Elephants of the Ivory Coast.

Political activists in Gabon protesting at the outcome of last August’s presidential election have called for local fans to boycott the AFCON but in a country where football is followed passionately the call is likely to receive little support.

All things to all men

The Apostle Paul’s well-known words to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 9, 19-23 tell us how he became “all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Later in the same epistle he encourages his readers to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11;1).

Planet Sport Football Africa programme producer Steve Vickers will be reporting from AFCON 2017 in Gabon.

Planet Sport Football Africa programme producer Steve Vickers will be reporting from AFCON 2017 in Gabon.

Passion for Sport will be bringing news, stories and interviews from AFCON to sports fans in Africa through our weekly radio programme Planet Sport Football Africa and social media. We come alongside listeners to inform and share their passion for football. This provides opportunities to share, for example, testimonies of footballers who are both passionate about their sport and committed in their faith as followers of Jesus Christ. Through social media we build relationships and look for opportunities to introduce Jesus to our conversations. Jesus talked to people from an agricultural community about a farmer sowing his seed.  He called the fishermen Peter and Andrew saying he would make them “fishers of men”. At Passion for Sport we seek to be imitators of Christ as we follow his example and speak to sports fans in a language they can understand.

We conducted a poll among Planet Sport Football Africa listeners to find out which team they thought would win AFCON 2017. Here are the top four predictions:

Senegal (Teranga Lions), 43% of the vote

Ghana (Black Stars), 16%

Algeria (Desert Foxes), 14%

Ivory Coast (The Elephants), 11%

The tournament runs for three weeks from 14 January with the final in Libreville on 5 February.

By Adrian Barnard

Looking Forward to 2017

Credit: Unsplash

Credit: Unsplash

Passion for Sport exists to introduce sports fans to Jesus through media and in 2017 we’re looking forward to bringing sports fans the news, stories and experiences from many of the top sporting events. With many fans looking for different angles on the events our unique Christian perspective enables us to reach fans who may have little or no understanding of the good news of the Gospel and the peace, joy and fulfilment that following Jesus brings.

In January football fans across Africa will be eagerly following the Africa Cup of Nations which takes place from 14 January to the 5th of February. In England Premier League teams will be losing African players to AFCON for up to six weeks for training, warm-up matches and the competition itself.  Sixteen teams are taking part including the hosts Gabon and the 2015 defending champions, Ivory Coast.  Planet Sport Football Africa producer, Steve Vickers, will be commentating on matches for the host broadcaster and in between recording interviews and producing our weekly programme. This is a great opportunity for us to produce the programme from the heart of the AFCON tournament and engage with fans across the continent who are following the competition.

February sees us at the Indoor Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham. Reporter Norman Brierley will be interviewing athletes for our other weekly programme, Planet Sport. As in past years we will be hoping to speak to athletes who are committed followers of Jesus, to share their stories with Planet Sport listeners.

In May the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series comes to Europe.  Following the successful introduction of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic Games in Rio worldwide interest in the sport is at an all-time high.  The Series takes in ten cities including Cape Town, Wellington and Hong Kong before finishing in Paris and London.  We are planning to attend at least one of the two European events to report on the action and interview some of the players on the circuit who are committed followers of Jesus.

Next we’ll be at two major athletics events in London, the IPC Athletics World Championships for para-athletes (14-23 July) and the IAAF World Championships (4-13 August). These are the biggest events on the athletics calendar outside the Olympics and Paralympics and we’re looking forward to bringing Planet Sport listeners the stories and interviews from the iconic Olympic Stadium where fans and athletes alike will recall the electric atmosphere from the amazing Olympics in 2012.

You can be part of our mission to introduce sports fans to Jesus through media in 2017. Pray for increasing opportunities to share the good news of Jesus through media and will you also consider making a gift and becoming one of our vital financial partners?

By Adrian Barnard, CEO

Why I work for Passion for Sport...

By Tom Ellis

From an early age I've loved both playing and watching sport. From kick-arounds in the park after school, to supporting from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon, it took up a lot of my childhood. As I grew older, I started to recognise the importance of it in my life and in the lives of those around me. Yes, it was something that I enjoyed and could do, but it was more than that. 

Many of us will be aware of the basic physical, psychological and social benefits of sport, and over the years I've been fortunate enough to see the impact of sport in certain communities and on lives of individuals. As someone who has been involved in sports journalism and sport development projects for a while now, I've seen what it means for people to be able to come together through a shared passion. I love the phrase often associated with sport, a level playing field, and the idea that when people of different backgrounds, faiths, races, genders come together to play, and to play something they love, any differences are put aside; all are equal. We see this in local youth projects and at big events such as the Olympics. The coming together of people, united through sport, be it in the name of competition or just enjoyment, is incredibly moving and has the power break down barriers in a way that few other things can. 

I believe sport has the power to bring about change. I'm passionate about that. But I also believe that, ultimately, true transformation and true freedom comes through knowing the love of Jesus. What a great combination. At Passion for Sport we aim to use media to introduce sports fans to Jesus. We do this by telling stories and by allowing sportspeople to tell their testimony, their story, so that others might be inspired, encouraged and challenged, by their passion for sport, but more importantly, their passion for Jesus. I work for Passion for Sport because I believe in the power of sport, I believe in the power of story-telling and I believe in the power of Jesus.


2016 Review of the Year

The Destination Rio team on Copacabana beach!

The Destination Rio team on Copacabana beach!

“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things.”  Psalm 98; 1

What a brilliant year of sport it’s been! The Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio captivated us with some thrilling team and individual performances; Leicester City surprised everyone by winning the Premier League title; and in Formula One Nico Rosberg held off a late surge from Lewis Hamilton to win his first title and then promptly retired. In tennis, Andy Murray capped a fine 2016 winning the Wimbledon and Olympic titles and ending the year as the top ranked player in men’s tennis.

It’s been a terrific year too for Passion for Sport as we seek to introduce sports fans to Jesus through media. The reporting highlight was at the Olympic Games in Rio where we served 1600 radio stations in English and Spanish and spoke to several top athletes about their sport and faith. 

Thank you for praying for new outlets for our weekly radio programmes Planet Sport and Planet Sport Football Africa. We’ve seen 25% growth in the number of stations broadcasting the shows this year. Over 70 stations now carry the programmes with new broadcast partners in Cameroon, Ghana and Uganda. We are also attracting a growing audience online and through our apps which added together means that we can now reach more sports fans than ever before with the good news of Jesus.

And this growing audience is engaging with us. Every week up to 100 listeners to Planet Sport Football Africa contact us through social media and WhatsApp, keen to be part of the programme. Please continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will work in these listeners’ lives, drawing them to the Saviour.

This week’s Planet Sport show features the first part of our 2016 Review of the Year. In it Planet Sport reporter Stuart Weir chooses his three highlights of the year. I won’t give too much away but you can listen to the show here. To whet your appetite we hear from United States athlete Kendra Harrison who set a new world record in the women’s 100 metres hurdles, as she talks about her relationship with Jesus and the impact that her faith has on her life.

In the run-up to Christmas I’ve been meditating on the book of Isaiah and the prophecies about the coming Saviour, Jesus. This time I’ve been reading the well-known passages in Eugene Peterson’s accessible translation, The Message. In chapter 54, verses 2-3 we read these words:

“Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! Use plenty of rope, drive the tent pegs deep. You’re going to need lots of elbow room for your growing family.”

The Lord has given us growth in 2016. We believe there is more to come. Are these words written two-and-a-half thousand years ago also appropriate for Passion for Sport as we stand on the threshold of a new year?

2016 has been a great year but we believe the best is yet to come. Will you consider making a gift and help us to introduce sports fans to Jesus through media?

Adrian Barnard, CEO