Erroll Bennett

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Erroll with his son Naea

Erroll Bennett is a retired football (soccer) legend. He was born on May 7, 1950, in French Polynesia and has dual citizenship in France. He was captain of the Tahitian national squad and played in the 1973 Oceania Cup.

Since sport in Tahiti is not professional, Erroll had been working during the day as a police officer in the Tahitian capital of Papeete. A friend in the Financial Department of the city government had first introduced him to the Church. The friend was Lysis Terooatea, who was serving as bishop of Papeete Tahiti Stake’s Third Ward when he invited the footballer and his wife over for a family home evening.
The Bennetts had enjoyed the evening and were touched by the film they had seen—“Man’s Search for Happiness.” Return invitations followed, and the Bennetts felt their interest deepening. As Brother Bennett was to recall later: “The bishop explained the principles of the gospel with great clarity. My wife and I both felt deeply the need to be baptized.”
But that decision had come as a bombshell to Erroll’s soccer club, Central, riding high at the head of the Honours Division—and it had nothing whatever to do with religious intolerance. All soccer games in Tahiti, as in many other places in the South Pacific, were played on Sundays. And if there was one thing the club officials knew about Mormons, it was that they had other things to do on Sundays than play sport. The club had already seen promising young players drop out of Sunday football after becoming members of the Church. Erroll Bennett’s decision to become a Latter-day Saint would almost certainly spell the end of his soccer career.
They were right about the Sundays. Erroll was already saying that if he was baptised he would no longer participate in Sunday games. The Church would come first—even before his beloved soccer. In desperation, Central Club and football league president Napoléon Spitz—an immensely powerful and influential figure in Tahitian sport—had telephoned Papeete Stake President Victor D. Cave, now Regional Representative. Wasn’t there some way, he asked, that the stake president could make a special dispensation to allow Erroll to play on Sundays? After all, this wasn’t just a football game, but a matter of national pride.
The president’s reply was polite, but to the point. “You must ask Erroll, and let him speak for himself. It is his decision to be baptized, and he will tell you how he feels.”

Additionally, Erroll’s father was against the baptism. “You have erected a wall between us. I want no more to do with you. . . .”

That evening, Erroll received a priesthood blessing for the first time, with longtime LDS friend and fellow soccer enthusiast Noel Tarati acting as voice. Brother Tarati quietly promised Erroll that the difficult problem would be resolved, and that his father would receive him if he returned, even though some strong things had been said.
The next day, Erroll again drove out to his father’s home. As he approached the house, he could see his father standing by the gate to the front garden. There were tears in his eyes. “I want you to forgive me, Erroll,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking about it. If you hadn’t come here first, I would have come to you.”

The problem of playing on Sunday was also resolved. Erroll spoke with Napoléon Spitz to withdraw from active soccer. But the Central Club and football league president advised him to hold off until after the league met later in the week.

Napoléon Spitz had advised league officials that the Central club had decided not to play on Sundays. Mr. Spitz explained that playing on Sundays was preventing team players from being with their families, and that it was an unacceptable practice. Whatever other league teams wanted to do, Central would not play on Sundays.
A vote was then called for, and the decision was unanimous. From now on, all Honours Division games would be played on weekday evenings.

[1] After Erroll Bennett’s baptism in 1977, all twelve top clubs in the Tahitian Honours Division have played their games midweek.

Brother Bennett likes to recount a conversation he had with a newspaper reporter during the South Pacific Games of 1979. Intrigued over the Tahitian captain’s refusal to play on the Sabbath, the journalist sought an interview. During the discussion, he asked, “Who is the person, alive today, that you admire most?”
“He sat back and waited for me to answer,” Brother Bennett recalls. “I guess he expected me to name some outstanding athlete. Instead, I told him the man I admired most was eighty-three-year-old Spencer W. Kimball, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I said I wanted to shake his hand one day. The rest of the interview was mainly about the Church!”
Erroll Bennett did eventually shake President Kimball’s hand. On 13 February 1981, the president visited Tahiti to break ground for the Tahitian Temple. Assigned to assist in handling security for the Church leader was Erroll Bennett.[2]

Napoléon Spitz was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. He was president of the powerful Comité Territorial des Sports, president of the Football League of French Polynesia, and was elected first vice president of the French Polynesian legislative assembly. He was asked why he admired Erroll Bennett.

“For Erroll, I knew that it was a matter of deep religious conviction, and I respected him for it,” Mr. Spitz says. Then, as he leans back in his chair in his political office in the Assembly building, he adds with feeling:
“Erroll Bennett is more than just a soccer player. I believe he is the greatest Tahitian soccer star of all time—as a player, his attitude and his spirit mark him as a great man. If he had these qualities before he became a Mormon, he has them to an even greater degree now. Not once in his career has he ever been cautioned for bad behaviour.”[3]

Football in Tahiti is not a paid profession, so Erroll worked for a number of years in law enforcement in the capital of Papeete. He then worked as Tahiti national director of public affairs for the Church.[4]