LDS beach soccer player declines to play in Sunday's World Cup final


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TAHITI — The Tahitian National Beach Soccer Team advanced to its first-ever FIFA Beach World Cup final Sunday, where the South Pacific nation fell to host Portugal 5-3.

Things might have been different if one of the Tahitians' top strikers had played.

But he wasn't going to find out.

Tahiti played without captain Naea Bennett, a 38-year-old member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who does not play soccer Sundays for his national team as well as his club — eight-time Tahitian first division winners AS Pirae.

Bennett sat out the game because of his religious beliefs, just as he had done for a previous group stage match against Paraguay, which also fell on a Sunday.

Bennett was the team's second-leading scorer in the tournament, scoring five goals in four matches that included two goals to help Tahiti to a penalty-shootout win over Italy in the semifinals. One of those goals was a spectacular bicycle kick to help send the Tahitians to extra time.

Tahiti was playing in only its third Beach World Cup, but the national team knew well of his beliefs regarding the Sabbath day. Bennett's father, Erroll Bennett, was one of the best soccer players in the South Pacific when he converted to Mormonism as a young adult.

When LDS missionaries taught Erroll Bennett about the Sabbath, he resolved to keep it, even if it meant giving up on his professional soccer career.

The managers of Tahiti's top club league, as well as the national team, rearranged the schedule to make sure all Sunday matches would be played on weeknights, and Erroll Bennett had a long club career that also led to a successful career for his son.

Erroll Bennett is also a former stake president of the Pirae Tahiti Stake, and he played on the same team as a player/coach with Naea Bennett at the end of his career, when the younger son was coming up as a 16-year-old soccer player.

Bennett has played with several other members of the LDS Church in his career, and every time, the youngster refused to play on Sunday.

Tahiti was making its furthest run through the World Cup, following a loss in the 2013 Beach World Cup semifinals. Had Tahiti won, Bennett would've been able to play in the final. The match was scheduled on a Saturday at the request of host Tahiti.


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Sean Walker


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