Christmas 2008: Sport

Rugby (the religion of Wales) and its influence on the Catholic church: should Pope Benedict XVI be worried?

2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2768 (Published 18 December 2008)
Cite this as: 2008;337:a2768

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Following the recent grand slam victory by the Welsh Rugby team it is possible that the conclusions of this article are misleading and based on false assumptions. The authors have correctly stated the null hypothesis based on the saying “every time Wales win the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and two Popes died.” However they have only included Roman Catholic Popes in the outcome measures thus altering the statistical analysis to create a potentially false reassurance.

This year saw the death of the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III , on the very day that Wales won the grand slam. He was pope for 41 years and succeeded Cyril VI, who died in 1971, in the same month that Wales won the grand slam again. Coptic Popes are the heads of the ancient See of Alexandria and directly follow on from Mark the evangelist, thus having a legitimate claim to the title. Since the researchers sought to test the possibillity that there was a link between Welsh grand slam rugby victories and the death of a Pope it is crucial that this new information be brought to the attention of your readership. The relationship between these deaths and the sporting events may not be fully understood, however I believe that the original research has created a false reassurance and may be putting the lives of other Popes at risk.

Competing interests: None declared

Edward J Snelson, Paediatrician

Sheffield Children's Hospital, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TH

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Egyptian Coptic Pope. Shenouda the 3rd. A pope dies .. not the pope. That's A .. A pope dies. try it again figuring in the full statistics .. March 2012

Competing interests: Egyptian Coptic Pope. Shenouda the 3rd.

taf williams, soothsayer

none, sheffield

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Well done Ireland on Saturday and commiserations to the Welsh.

It looks like Pope Benedict can breathe easily until next year. Any data on Lions tour results and papal health?

Competing interests: A Roman Catholic and an Englishman

Competing interests: None declared

Paul W Keeley, Consultant Palliative Physician

Glasgow Royal Infirmary, G4 0SF

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28 February 2009

Wales lost to France last night - so does that mean there is no God ? Or that Catholic France has favoured status ?? Or that non-conformism is a heresy ???

It was simply that the best team on the night won the game.

Chwarae teg.

Competing interests: I live in heaven ( sorry, Wales )

Competing interests: None declared

L Sam Lewis, GP

Surgery, Newport, Pembrokeshire, SA42 0TJ

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5 February 2009

We would very much like to thank those who took the time to write to the journal, or to us personally, regarding our article1 on the link between Welsh rugby success and the mortality of popes. In this, the week before the 2009 Six Nations Championship kicks off, we make a brief rejoinder to the discussion.

A (reasonable) question was raised about the economic justification for our 'freakish research'. We would like to reassure all concerned that the study incurred no cost to the tax payer, though the overwhelming response from the world's media in the fortnight following the press release proved somewhat disruptive to our usual work. This said, we also believe that frivolity ought not to be confined to times of prosperity, especially around Christmas, so we make no apology for indulging in a final round of light- hearted banter.

We are most grateful to Gerry Waldron who, with a deft wit, pointed out our historical errors. In the same spirit, we would like to suggest that our correspondents united against contact sports may be guilty of a similar lack of attention to historical detail. Surely both elation and injury have always been inextricably bound up in such pursuits? Originally, just two rules divided rugby from association football. The first persists: the question of handling the ball. The other, defunct in today's 'blood-thirsty' game, allowed that "any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip or hack [the ball carrier], or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the same time".

Several discussants made more theological points: Is Welsh the language of heaven? Is Welsh rugby truly a religion? Good questions both, to which we add our own enquiries: What if the Pope was Welsh? Do popes fear death (Philippians 1:21)? Are popes closet Welsh rugby fans?

Two responses alluded to the interesting case of John Paul II. Indeed, to our knowledge, he is the only genuine connection between our events of interest. For Brock Cambourne is quite correct in his belief that Karol Józef Wojtyla played international rugby (he appeared as a substitute for Poland against Italy). Perhaps his knowledge of the game makes him a statistical outlier, and explains some of the many interesting coincidences mentioned by Paul Keeley?

The final word, though, must go to Walter Gianni, Paola Gazzaniga, Stefano Zuccaro and Giuseppe Luzi. Surely the advice of scientific research has never so quickly reached the ears of its intended audience (the Vatican medical team)! We agree that our article might conceivably have a negative effect on the Pope's mental health, and so would like to emphasise that our only serious aim was to demonstrate the need for the application of common sense when reading epidemiological papers. We also have it on good authority that in Rome they are much more worried about the Pope when it snows, leading perhaps to the adage "white hills, black smoke." We thank Gianni et al. for their beguiling suggestion that our results only truly demonstrate the scarcity of Welsh victories!

1. Gareth C Payne, Rebecca E Payne, and Daniel M Farewell Rugby (the religion of Wales ) and its influence on the Catholic church: should Pope Benedict XVI be worried? BMJ 2008; 337: a2768

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Daniel M Farewell, MRC/WAG training fellow in health services research/health of the public

Gareth C Payne

Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff,

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I recall reading somewhere that Pope John Paul II actually played 5/8 for Poland during his university days!

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Brock Cambourne, Executive General Manager

The Travel Doctor-TMVC, Brisbane, Aust, 4000

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Dear Editor,

I agree wholeheartedly with the writer of "Beware of Contact Sports". Ever since sports became professional, money spinning activity, they changed into blood thirsty gladiator-type endeavours. They stopped being elegant and courteous participation.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Dr Viera Scheibner PhD, Scientist/Author Retired

Blackheath NSW Australia

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4 January 2009

Contact sports (such as boxing, hockey, rugby, and American football) are parodies of manhood, and atavistic, anachronistic, sadomasochistic, barbaric bacchanalia, which create the euphoria of victory, machismo, and fun, and the sickness of injury, disability, and pain. The euphoria of victory, machismo, and fun, and the sickness of injury, disability, and pain, are polar opposites, which reinforce each other: the euphoria blinds you to the sickness; and the sickness makes you crave the euphoria. Ironically, contact sports create and aggravate the very sickness they seem to cure.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Hugh Mann, Physician

Eagle Rock, MO 65641 USA

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29 December 2008

In reply to Payne GC, BMJ 2008;337:a2768

Dear Editor,

We congratulate Payne et al for the funny idea and the Journal which sought to publish the results of a statistical correlation between papal deaths and Wales rugby performances. Nevertheless, from our point of view of being:

1) roman medical doctors, one of us working in the Vatican Medical Team ( Zuccaro S ndr ).
2) Devout Catholics,

we feel a little bit worried for the consequences of such “advertisment” on the Pope’s mental health. Thus we ask to BMJ to accept few suggestions, as follows:
1) crociates against Welsh rugby
2) to engage a good psychotherapist in the Vatican medical team to support our Pope
3) to buy all the copies of Payne’s article, so to avoid that Benedict XVI may read it.
4) Ask the Pope to pray a little bit harder for England, Scotland, Ireland rugby teams and a little bit softly for Wales.

Anyway, we feel much more worried for Wales rugby team than for Pope’s health, which is really in good hands. In fact in our country when we say “everytime a Pope dies” we mean “something so rare that it never happens”. So our interpretation of Payne’s article is that Wales rugby team should improve its performances and try to win more frequently!

Best regards

Walter Gianni M.D. PhD Geriatric Unit INRCA IRCCS Rome
Paola Gazzaniga, M.D., PhD “ Sapienza” University of Rome
Stefano Zuccaro MD Geriatric Unit Ospedale Israelitico Rome and Vatican Medical Team
Giuseppe Luzi MD, PhD “ Sapienza” University of Rome

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

walter gianni, geriatrician

Paola Gazzaniga, Stefano Zuccaro,Giuseppe Luzi

INRCA, IRccs, Rome

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23 December 2008

Given the current economy crisis, I wonder if any tax money was spent to let the authors accomplish such freakish research.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Jose R Perez, Anesthetist

University hospital of Navarra. 31008- Pamplona. Spain.

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