Tahiti lost the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup game to Portugal on Sunday, and perhaps they lost BECAUSE it was Sunday. Tahiti’s team captain, Naea Bennett, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he doesn’t play on Sundays. Despite this being the biggest game of his career, he still didn’t play. Bennett is one of the top scorers on the team, and the game might well have had a different outcome with him playing. According to news reports, fans tried to get Bennett to change his mind, but he stuck to his values.
It’s doubtful that anyone on the team was very surprised that Bennett refused to reconsider and play. His father, Erroll Bennett, was also a professional soccer player who refused to play on Sundays. According to a Church magazine article from 1982, Erroll Bennett was prepared to give up his soccer career when he joined the Church at age 27. However, the league changed the rules for Erroll, and stopped playing on Sundays. He then continued playing soccer for many more years.
A follow-up article from 1994 reported that the young Naea, then just 16, had every intention of following in his father’s footsteps, both in playing soccer and in living the gospel. Naea Bennett went on to serve a 2-year mission in New Caledonia before resuming his soccer career, as reported at FIFA.com.
In Tahiti, the team still doesn’t play on Sundays, but the World Cup final rules don’t exclude Sunday games. According to Business Insider, “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.”