Austin Tiffany takes a break from his research to pose in front of a clock showing the official countdown to the beginning of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
When we think of large, international sporting events like the Olympic Games or soccer’s World Cup, we tend to think of the pageantry of opening ceremonies and the lofty ideal of people from around the world brought together for peaceful competition.
While events like these can promote worldwide friendship through sports, Austin Tiffany, a junior religion major from Amarillo, Texas, says that they can also create problems for people who live in the host communities, particularly the poor or elderly.
“The Olympics aren’t as much of a windfall as some people expected,” he says. “The traffic congestion, disruption of public transportation and difficulty of accessing social services made it hard for some people to get along with their lives.”
Under the mentorship of Dr. John White, an assistant professor at Truett Seminary and director of the sports ministry program, Tiffany conducted research this past summer in London aimed at learning more about the ways local churches were helping those in their communities. As part of his research, he attended civic meetings and conducted interviews with community members and religious leaders in areas that were impacted by the Olympics. His research was funded in part by a grant from the Undergraduate Research & Scholarly Achievement Small Grants Program.
While some local church officials were opposed to the Olympics because of the impact on their parishioners, Tiffany found that many of them came up with ideas to provide help to those whose lives were disrupted. Churches became involved in activities like serving meals, hosting community gatherings or helping the poor find work.
In addition to providing these services, Tiffany says churches can use their position to advocate for those who may be negatively impacted.
“Churches need to be able to put pressure on the Olympics to do good things for the poor in their host communities,” he says. “Churches can act on a local level in a way that larger international organizations may not be able to.”
Tiffany presented the results of this project at URSA Scholars Week, but his work is far from over. He will travel back to London this summer to carry out an internship with the Contextual Theology Center, an international religious organization that, among other goals, studies the use of sports to promote development and social justice. After graduating from Baylor, he plans to pursue a seminary or divinity degree where he will continue to study practical ways churches can make a difference in their communities.
“I’ve always seen the Olympics as a symbol of something bigger and more important than just sports,” he says. “This project gave me the opportunity to combine my interest in the Olympics with my desire to help the church improve its outreach.”