Charmian Purcell is used to making headlines as a basketball player in New Zealand. But this year she is also making headlines because she and teammate Nonila Wharemate, both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, refuse to play on Sundays. This is a particularly big issue because both are going to the Olympics and a single game, against the United States, is scheduled on Sunday.
The Church teaches that Sunday is the Sabbath. The ten commandments includes a commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Church members are asked not to work or play on that day unless it is necessary, but it leaves it to the individual to interpret, with God’s help, whether or not their work is necessary. There are three Latter-day Saints on the team, and one, Charmian’s sister Natalie Purcell, plays on Sundays.
Charmian was never faced with the Sunday play problem until she was recruited for professional sports. Her sister had played in the United States, but Charmian had not. Coaches were reluctant to take on two players who would refuse to play on Sundays, but neither Charmian nor Nonila would back down and coaches eventually gave in. However, sometimes one or the other would be left behind in national team games, but they considered it part of the price they needed to pay to live their religion the way they interpreted it.
When the Olympic team was being put together, the Sunday issue again became a problem, making national and even international news as coaches had to decide if they could afford to have two players who would not play in the Sunday game. Both girls were anxious, but both made the team. They won’t play in the Sunday game, but are required to attend and sit on the sidelines.
Not only did the girls not play on Sunday, but after discovering the closing ceremonies parade would also be on Sunday, they decided they probably won’t go there either, even though they also missed the opening ceremony parade due to an early game the next day.
The Olympics will be the first time the sisters have played together in many years, since Natalie played in the United States, and when she returned, Charmian was recovering from a serious injury and didn’t play. They have a younger sister who also plays, but is still in college.
Charmion plays, normally, on the Christchurch Sirens team, nicknamed the Tall Ferns. It is part of the WNBL League in New Zealand. She joined the team in 1999 and debuted in 2001 in a game against Australia. She was MVP that first year for under twenty-three players. When she tore her ACL and sat out much of last year, the team did poorly on their European tour, emphasizing Charmion’s importance to the team’s winning traditions. Her coaches credit her with working very hard to come back in time for the Olympics, arriving at 5:30 in the morning for practices, even though she is a wife and mother with a busy personal life.
Read more about how she chose not to play on a Sunday.