Papiss Cisse and that shirt that just won’t fit his beliefs

Sport and religion have always endured a complicated relationship, one that can be coated in spirituality as much as it can be tarnished by sectarian hatred.

The influx of players from areas with vast religious influence such as South America and Africa has seen a sharp increase in fingers pointed skyward in celebration, as well as in T-shirts proclaiming a player’s faith or his love for the Almighty.

Unfortunately, Spurs’ roots in the Jewish community mean their fans are still subject to abhorrent chants by some rivals, while the sectarian divide between the two Glasgow clubs is unlikely to ever be totally bridged, despite the huge efforts both Celtic and Rangers have displayed in recent years.

Up until now, however, football had almost always been seen as a mean through which players and fans displayed their religion, rather than a threat to a player’s religious beliefs, as in the case of Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse, who’s has objected to wear his club’s shirt because of its sponsor.

Newcastle last year agreed a deal with pay day loans company Wonga, whose logo appears on the Magpies’ training and playing strips but Cisse, a devoted Muslim, has refused to wear the shirt for the company’s policy clashes with his religious beliefs.

While Cisse’s stance on pay day loan companies is completely understandable and likely to find a lot of support among footballers and politicians – when the deal was sealed last October, the leader of Newcastle City Council told The Guardian he was “appalled and sickened” that the club had signed a deal with “a legal loan shark” - the Senegalese striker is, effectively, a Newcastle United’s employee and should therefore adhere to the internal code of conduct, right?

Well, the situation is not so simple, it seems, with Newcastle deciding to play hardball with their striker who was confined to training alone in the gym, while his team-mates sweated it out on the pitch and has been told he’ll remain on his own until the matter is resolved.

Pay day loan companies are an increasingly common feature on football pitches, with Blackpool having being sponsored by Wonga for the last four seasons, while Bolton Wanderers fans submitted a petition to prevent their club from being sponsored by QuickQuid – a company, the fans believed, that would clash with the roots and ethos of the club.

Papiss Cisse isn’t the first sportsman to consider religion to be more important than is profession, however handsomely paid such profession might be. Scotland and Worcester Warriors prop Euan Murray four years ago announced that he’d no longer be playing on Sundays, because of his commitment to the Christian Sabbath, while fellow Scotsman and devoted Christian Eric Liddell (whose life inspired the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire) refused to run the 100m at the 1924 Paris Olympics – scheduled on a Sunday – despite being billed as one of the clear favourites.

Sport isn’t the only environment where critical decisions are to be taken either, with many among us having to make compromises in their daily routines to combine their jobs with their religious beliefs.

Whether it’s a matter working on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, Hannukah and during the Ramadan or whether it simply involves being on call on a Saturday or Sunday, the sailing is hardly always plain.

To many of those people, Papiss Cisse’s decision would seem the latest in a long list of cases in which an overpaid footballer has decide to throw his expensive toys out of the prams and, perhaps, some would even accuse the Newcastle striker of instrumentalising religion simply to engineer a move elsewhere – particularly considering that fellow Muslim Hatem Ben Arfa has regularly trained with the squad.

However, Cisse’s offer to wear a charity-branded shirt rather than the logo of the club’s new sponsors, suggests that between him and the club, he’s the one more willing to make a step forward in search of a solution.

The North East has been one the areas where the financial crisis has been at its deepest and Cisse’s decision to refuse to wear a shirt carrying a logo of a company thought to exploit people’s financial difficulties has earned him a lot of admiration. Unfortunately for Newcastle fans and Alan Pardew, he could have also secured him a one-way ticket out of St James’ Park.

Should religion play second fiddle to our job or does Cisse every right to refuse to wear the shirt? Should Newcastle back off or are they better off selling him? We want your views so have your say below or get involved on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.

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  1. Steve says:

    My issue with this whole situation is that it seems as if Cisse is picking and choosing when religion is more important in the hopes to engineer a move. Correct me if I am wrong but the whole issue is that Wonga charge interest and as part of his religion Cisse is not allowed to promote a company that profits from charging interest. My issue is last season he had no problem wearing the Virgin Money logo who also profit from interest. He also plays in the Barclays Premier League who also charge interest. If this was really a religious issue no Muslim player would ever play in the Premier League.

    • Mohd Hisham says:

      Many Muslims face the dilemma in modern life. We cannot escape the ‘interest’ environment. So we carve out some things cannot be compromised. Exorbitant interest is one of it and I salute Cisse for drawing a line at his compromises.

  2. DC says:

    That’s a very valid point, particularly when considering that a lot of Muslim players ply their trade in teams sponsored by gambling sites, online casino etc as well as the ones you correctly pointed out. However, Newcastle’s stance is of such rigidity that it makes one wonder if they’re not trying to sell him themselves.

  3. DA says:

    The beliefs in this case being that he believes he deserves a higher salary…

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