31 January 2006

Sport is more like religion than even sports-mad Australians might realise, according to a new book.

Lone Sailors and Spiritual Insights: Cases of Sport and Peril at Sea, says winning isn’t everything — it’s how we face failure that shows our sporting and spiritual maturity.

The author, UQ religion expert Associate Professor Richard Hutch, said sailing was spiritual because it tested human character with triumphs and tragedies from rough seas, equipment failures to mental challenges.

Associate Professor Hutch details the experiences of dozens of solo sailors based on interviews with Australian sailors such Jesse Martin, one of the youngest sailors to circumnavigate the globe.

He also includes snippets from the diaries and autobiographies of the most courageous and tragic sailors from the last 100 years showing how they handled bad weather, technical error, loneliness and depression.

The book begins with the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht race in which six people died.

He said all the technology in modern yachts such as carbon fibre hulls, lightweight sails and computer navigation and weather reports, wasn’t enough to save those sailors.

“The human dimension opens up when things go wrong,” Associate Professor Hutch said.

“How does a human being face limitation, face failure in spite of relying on technology? Doing so and succeeding at it is human spirituality.”

He said people could learn a lot about themselves from sport and spirituality and facing daily limitations and failure.

“Spirituality is a popular term these days. It’s almost replacing the word religion. Religion tends to be associated with churches and synagogues and mosques and more formal or conventional forms of spirituality.

“But what happens in Australia, is that most people are not that interested in formal religion, but they are very interested in personal spirituality and especially sport.”

He said links between sport and religion should be recognised more widely.

“People who seek personal meanings in sport, rather than just weekend recreational activity, are akin to religious people the world over without quite realising it.”

The 411-page book took Associate Professor Hutch four years to write and is available from specialist book seller Boat Books for $171.

The book grew out of his hobby of sailing with friends in the northern part of Moreton Bay, but he said other sports were spiritual pastimes also.

Associate Professor Hutch is Head of the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at UQ.

Media: Associate Professor Hutch (0404 832 199, 07 3365 3283, richard.hutch@uq.edu.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (07 3365 2619)