• Culture

“Roger Federer is a sort of saint”

31.07.2018 – Stéphane Herzog

Is Switzerland’s favourite sportsman divine?

Denis Müller, an honorary professor at Geneva University, wrote the book ‘Le football, ses dieux et ses démons’ [Football, its Gods and its Demons]. Olivier Bauer from Canton Vaud is the author of a book on the religious fervour of supporters of Montreal’s ice hockey team. What did they think of this comic album, which claims Roger Federer was predestined to have a supernatural career?

“It’s all very amusing, but barely credible,” says Denis Müller. “Federer is an exceptional champion, but he is partly self-made, with the accompanying highs and lows. He is the outcome of training, talent and circumstances.”

Müller puts the public’s obsession with the tennis player on a par with “quasi-religions that are imitations of religions, but remain a far cry from real religions”.

“There isn't a Church of St. Federer, but certainly one dedicated to Maradona,” quips Olivier Bauer, reminding us that “the aim of tennis is to destroy your opponent, and Roger Federer is a product designed to make money, neither of which are goals of religions”. The theologian also stresses the excessive amounts of money tennis stars earn. “It’s fundamentally unjust that one person can amass so much money,” he says.

A Swiss model

Will Swiss religious aspirations be sublimated in their love of this sportsman, presented humorously as Jesus’ successor? “Jesus died on the cross at the age of 33,” Dennis Müller replies. “His achievements were linguistic and therapeutic in nature. At age 36, Federer is preparing for a second career rather than a resurrection.” Bauer reminds us that the tennis player has failed on several occasions: “He had glandular fever and sometimes lost to lower-ranking players. If anything, Federer encourages us to be better people, to defend our country better, but everyone knows that he’s not godlike. In theology, we don’t confuse Jesus of Nazareth with God Himself. Even in the Holy Trinity, Christ is the son of God; the crucified one.”

Olivier Bauer says you can use theological tools to interpret the image of the Swiss star even without recourse to the divine. He sees Federer as being more like the saints. “He’s an ideal man, a model to follow at a time in our history in which people are united by sport, whereas in the past they did so more during patriotic gatherings, wrestling competitions or at Church.” The athlete from Basel would also make the perfect example of Swissness. “He appeals to everyone, a little bit like Bernhard Russi. Some people would also like the Swiss to be like Federer: a country that doesn’t make too much fuss.”