With the symbolic kick-off of the Juventus and national football team champion Alex Del Piero in the Paul VI Hall began the first World Conference on Faith and sports. The presence of religious leaders from around the world, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Card. Gianfranco Ravasi, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and IOC president Thomas Bach, took place a celebration that combined sports and music (with an appreciated performance of pianist Lang Lang), testimonies and reflections, before Pope Francis’ speech.
“Sports are a human activity of great value, capable of enriching people’s lives, available to men and women of all nations, ethnic belonging, and religious affiliations – said the pontiff -. In the last few months alone, we have seen that the Olympic and Paralympic Games were at the center of the world’s attention. The Olympic motto “altius, citius, fortius” is an invitation to develop the talents God has given us.” According to Francis, when sports express harmony and teamwork, “they transcend the level of pure physicality and take us to a spiritual level, even to a mystery. These moments are accompanied by great joy and satisfaction, which all of us can share, despite not having competed”.
The Pope also stressed the amateur side of sports: “There are also amateur and recreational sports, not aimed at competition, but which allows everyone to improve their health and well-being, learning to work in teams, to know how to win, and how to lose. It is important to allow everyone to participate in sports, and I am glad that commitment to ensure that sport becomes more inclusive and that its benefits are truly accessible to everyone have been the focus of your attention these days.”
Then, the Pope addressed his thoughts to the inclusiveness that characterizes the sports of the Disabled: “The Paralympic movement and other sports associations in support of persons with disabilities, such as The Special Olympics, played a decisive role in helping the public to recognize and admire the outstanding performance of athletes with different abilities and skills. These events give us experiences that exalt in an admirable way the greatness and purity of sports”. Without forgetting “so many children and young people who live on the outskirts of our society. We all know children’s enthusiasm when they play with a deflated ball or a ball made with rags in the suburbs of some large cities or in the streets of the small countries. I would encourage everyone – institutions, sports clubs, educational and social organizations, religious communities – to work together to ensure that these children have access to sports in dignity.”
Then, Francis challenged us to “preserve purity in sports”, to “protect them from manipulation and commercial exploitation. It would be sad for sports and for the humanity, if people were no longer able to believe in the truth of scores, or if cynicism and disenchantment got the upper hand on enthusiasm, joy, and disinterested participation. In sports, like in life, it is important to fight for the result, but playing well and sincerely is even more important! Do not forget that beautiful word we use for real sport: amateurs.”
In his greeting, Card. Ravasi pointed out that in sports “you can see a symbol of the commitment of so many people, especially young people.” ‘We believe sports can make the world become a better place – said the President of Cho – Sports are not a religion, sports and faith concern different spheres. Yet, sports teach respect for dignity and is against discrimination too: the rules are the same for everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from. The Olympics – he concluded – show that it is possible to live together and compete, with respect for the others and for the rules.”
At the meeting, presented by Lorena Bianchetti, world-class athletes offered their testimony, such as Olympic Valentina Vezzali, Daniele Galasso and Igor Cassina. Galasso, who in Rio took the gold medal in fencing, said he donated 150,000 euros from the award he received from the Agnelli Foundation, for charitable purposes following a survey: “I had so much already, it seemed right to me.” The team of the Taekwondo humanitarian foundation, however, which performs for refugees and disaster-affected populations, announced that their world tour would end in Amatrice.