"God answers my prayers everywhere except on the golf-course."
Loving your neighbour in the heat of the battleLove your neighbour as yourself. Matthew 22:39
In writing up his interview with Jason Robinson, (England rugby player and Christian) a sports journalist, Paul Kimmage, imagined the team talk before the game: "Put your bodies on the line. Put your mind on the line! There's nothing else after this. When that whistle is gone at the end, there is nothing else! They're arrogant. They think they're going to win. We'll take them down." The writer then imagines Jason thinking "What about 'Love thy neighbour as thyself'? What about 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you'?"
The irony is that Kimmage in his light-hearted, tongue in cheek, article has expressed the dilemma exactly. The Christian player must put his body on the line and be as competitive as the rest of the team but, at the same time, love his neighbour. That is the essence of being a Christian in the cauldron of competitive sport.
If Christian sportspeople see opponents, not as the enemy but as neighbours, and moreover a neighbour whom Jesus tells them to love as themselves, it certainly affects the attitude to the opponent. It is about treating the opponent in the way that we want to be treated: with respect. It is about wanting a fair game, a good contest. It is about wanting the opponent to push us to perform at our best. People often think that being loving and being competitive is an "either or" but, in this setting, love means being competitive!
With that understanding perhaps the way to love one's neighbour is to give them the hardest tackle one's body can produce - fairly and within the rules. By doing that one is forcing them to be the best player they can be. Similarly I need the opponent to nail me when I get the ball and to play the most brilliant tactical game they can so that I have to take my gifts and use them to the best of my ability against them. That is to love my opponent in the heat of the competition. It is wanting the best for your opponent, in order to get the best out of yourself. It is playing hard but not seeking an unfair advantage.