LONDON // The power of sport to unify and inspire was the unusual theme chosen by Queen Elizabeth II yesterday in her Christmas Day address to the Commonwealth.
The Queen, who visited the UAE in the autumn, praised the ability of sporting competition to teach fundamental life skills, with values such as honesty, respect for others and a sense of community fostered on the playing field.
She singled out this year's Commonwealth Games in India as an example of how athletes across the globe can come together to compete in harmony.
"Right around the world, people gather to compete under standard rules and, in most cases, in a spirit of friendly rivalry," she said in her speech broadcast around the world at 3pm local time.
"Competitors know that, to succeed, they must respect their opponents - very often, they like each other too.
"Sportsmen and women often speak of the enormous pride they have in representing their country, a sense of belonging to a wider family.
"We see this vividly at the Commonwealth Games, for example, which is known to many as the Friendly Games and where I am sure you have noticed that it is always the competitors from the smallest countries who receive the loudest cheers.
"People are capable of belonging to many communities, including a religious faith."
The Queen said that, over the course of the past year, she had seen "how important sport is in bringing people together from all backgrounds, from all walks of life and from all age groups".
She added in a TV broadcast recorded at Hampton Court 10 days ago: "Apart from developing physical fitness, sport and games can also teach vital social skills.
"None can be enjoyed without abiding by the rules, and no team can hope to succeed without co-operation between the players.
"This sort of positive team spirit can benefit communities, companies and enterprises of all kinds."
A more strident note was struck by Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Church of England, who used his Christmas sermon to rebuke the wealthiest in society.
Questioning whether the very rich were bearing their share of the economic downturn, the archbishop said during his address at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday that society could only bear hardship "if we are confident that it is being fairly shared".
He added: "We shall have that confidence only if there are signs that everyone is committed to their neighbour, that no one is just forgotten, that no interest group or pressure group is able to opt out.
"That confidence isn't in huge supply at the moment, given the massive crises of trust that have shaken us all in the last couple of years and the lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load."
Mr Williams also asked people to remember Christians around the world, including in Iraq and Zimbabwe, which "suffer repression and persecution" for their faith.