A leading charity committed to combating the persecution of Christians around the world has called on believers to use the football World Cup as a spur to their prayers.
They explain, "Whilst we acknowledge that many people will choose to not watch the tournament, for different reasons, we believe the tournament offers a precious opportunity to raise support for persecuted Christians living in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Mexico, Cameroon and host nation Qatar."
Iran is in the same group for the initial stages of the tournament as England, Wales and the United States, with matches scheduled in the next two weeks.
Open Doors says of Iran, "Teaching the Bible, telling others about Christianity or praying to Jesus could lead to being arrested in Iran. More people are rejecting Islam and choosing to follow Jesus, but there are dangers: authorities raid house churches and many leaders have been sent to prison."
Christians are encouraged to pray that believers in Iran "will have wisdom and boldness as they seek to share their faith with others".
Of host nation Qatar, Open Doors says, "The only churches allowed in Qatar are for foreigners. The small number of Qatari Christians are not allowed to go to those services or have their own church buildings. Most converts will keep their Christian faith a complete secret, as Qatar doesn't officially recognise conversion from Islam."
Christians are being asked to pray "that God will use the World Cup to prompt the authorities to allow Qatari believers greater freedoms".
The organisation has produced a special wall chart, downloadable from their website, that sets out when the World Cup matches are due to take place. Christians are urged to pray for the nations on the 'World Watch List' when their teams are competing. Open Doors are calling this 'pray while they play.'
Open Doors has also produced a 'Tackle Persecution at the 2022 World Cup' prayer diary for Christians to use. It says, "The last men's football World Cup – held in 2018 in Russia – was watched by some 3.5 billion people worldwide. That's more than half the world's population. It's one of the world's most popular sports tournaments – even attracting those not particularly interested in football!
"This means the tournament offers a precious opportunity to draw attention to the seven countries involved which are also on the World Watch List, including host nation Qatar. Being a Christian in these countries can come at a huge cost, and watching their teams play over the next few weeks can be a prompt to pray for them."
The charity has also produced fund-raising ideas linked to the World Cup for churches to use.
Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, and a season ticket holder at Premier League club, Brentford FC. He has written and broadcast about the close links between faith and football.