Soccer player misses biggest match of his career because of his religious beliefs

Portugal defeated Tahiti 5-3 in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup final to claim their second championship. But things might have been different if the match had not been played on Sunday.

Tahiti played the match without their captain, Naea Bennett, who sat out the game because he is Mormon and does not work on Sundays, according to Tahiti Nui Television.

Bennett was the team’s second-leading scorer, having hit the back of the net five times in just four matches including two goals in Tahiti’s win over Italy in the semifinals and another two goals in their 5-4 win over Iran in the quarterfinals. The latter match included this amazing bicycle kick goal.

According to the Tahiti Nui Television report, fans begged Bennett to reconsider. However, the move did not come as a surprise as the 38-year-old Bennett had previously missed Tahiti’s group stage match against Paraguay, which also fell on a Sunday.

Back home in Tahiti, Bennett’s participation with his club team is less problematic. According to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Bennett’s teams at times have had numerous players who were Mormon and the teams are never asked to play on Sunday, something that began with Bennett’s father, a local soccer star who converted to Mormonism as an adult.

“Everyone in Tahiti knows the story of [Naea’s] father, Erroll Bennett. As a young man, Erroll was the best soccer player in Tahiti, maybe the best player in the South Pacific. He was taught about the Church and wanted to be baptized. The missionaries taught Erroll about keeping the Sabbath day holy, but all of Erroll’s soccer games were on Sunday. He felt that if he and his wife were to be baptized then he would have to give up playing soccer … Erroll Bennett’s decision did not go unnoticed. After all, soccer was by far the most popular sport in Tahiti, and he was the star of the top team. He had pressure from his extended family, from his teammates, and from those who ran organised sports. But once Erroll was baptized and told his team that he wouldn’t be playing on Sunday anymore, sports officials began to make changes to make it possible for Erroll to continue playing. They rearranged sports schedules, moving the Sunday games to nights during the week.”

This was Tahiti’s first Beach World Cup final. Interestingly, in 2013, they lost in the semifinals. Had Tahiti won that match, Bennett would have been able to play in the final. While this year’s tournament was held in Portugal, the 2013 World Cup was played in Tahiti and the final was played on a Saturday.

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