Ethos Education

Senna: What are the limits to ‘win at all cost’ in professional sport?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Explore issues surrounding morality in sport.
  • Understand the role of religious organisations within leisure e.g. chaplains, Christians in Sport.
  • Evaluate the role of money within sport such as payment for elite players, gambling and sponsorship.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on how far students would be prepared to go to achieve their ambitions.
  • Analyse the life-and-death implications of extreme competitiveness in Formula One motor racing.
  • Reflect on the way Ayrton Senna’s belief in God may have influenced his behaviour when racing.
  • Evaluate the impact of money on professional sport.
  • Synthesise learning by writing Ten Commandments for Christians involved in sport.


Ask the students to think about their most pressing ambition in life. It could be something short term (pass my exams, get a specific person to start going out with me, complete all the levels on my favourite computer game) or long-term (become Prime Minister, be married with children, get a job in the film industry, etc). Once the students have all chosen their ambition (they don’t have to tell anyone what it is), ask them all to stand up. Explain that you are going to read through a list. For each thing mentioned on the list, students should remain standing if they would be willing to do that thing in order to pursue their chosen ambition.

  • Tell lies
  • Steal
  • Double-cross a friend
  • Make yourself look stupid in public
  • Spend hours of time practising
  • Put your own life at risk
  • Put someone’s life at risk
  • Kill someone

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about a number of factors concerning professional sport, including the question of how far top sportsmen and women are prepared to go in order to win, and the influence that money has upon their competitiveness. You will also be thinking about how a Christian perspective might be brought into play with such issues.


Explain that you are going to show a clip from the film Senna (Universal, 2011, exempt from classification), a documentary about the former World motor racing champion Ayrton Senna. Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that the clip they are about to watch explores some of the tensions between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, arguably the best two motor racing drivers in the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what is said about the influence of Senna’s belief in God on his racing, and about the tactics employed by both drivers. You might want to explain that previous to this clip, the film has explained how Prost won the 1989 World Championship in contentious circumstances. Senna was disqualified for the way he rejoined the circuit after a crash that, arguably, was deliberately engineered by Prost (who benefitted from Senna’s disqualification, winning the title himself in Senna’s place). Students should be aware that when someone called Balestre is mentioned, it refers to Jean-Marie Balestre, the President of the governing body for Formula One. Balestre was, like Prost, French. The film shows that some of the drivers felt that he was less-than-impartial where his fellow-countryman was concerned.

  • Start time:       0.36.39 (in chapter 8 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.46.27
  • Clip length:     9 minutes and 48 seconds

The clip starts with the caption ‘1990’. The first words are Ron Dennis saying, ‘In the 1990 season he came back wiser…’ The clip ends with Ron Dennis saying, ‘…this had determined the World Championship.’ Please note that the clip includes an instance of swearing (during the drivers’ pre-race meeting). If this makes it inappropriate, you might prefer to fast-forward over the drivers’ meeting.

Ask the students whether a win-at-all-costs attitude can be carried into sports like Formula One, where crashes have the potential to be life-threatening? What are the moral implications for drivers as regards the safety of their competitors?

What difference do the students think Senna’s belief in God made to the way he drove a racing car? Do they agree with Prost that it made him dangerous to himself and to other drivers? Moving the discussion beyond the specifics of motor racing, can the students think of any sports where a Christian faith would be likely to actively help a professional sportsman or woman? Are there any where a Christian faith would be likely to be a distinct disadvantage?

Show a second clip from Senna, from the very end of the film.

  • Start time:       1.36.17 (in chapter 19 of the DVD)
  • End time:        1.37.53
  • Clip length:     1 minute and 36 seconds

The clip starts with a plaque commemorating Senna after his death. The first line is someone conducting a press conference and saying, ‘Mark, last question.’ The clip ends when the footage of young Senna in the late 1970s fades to black. The last line is, ‘…a very good memory.’

Point out Senna’s line about his early days in karting being ‘pure racing – there wasn’t any politics then, right? And no money involved either, so it was real racing.’ To what extent does big money change the nature of competitive sport?


Ask the students to write a list of Ten Commandments for Christians involved in sport. The list should be applicable for both professional and amateur sports and should reflect how Christian values relate to the world of sport.


  • A copy of the film Senna and the means to play it.
  • Bibles.

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