By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis challenged the sports world to fend off corrupt and manipulative practices and to uphold the values of honesty, fairness and transparency.
“It would be sad for sport and for humanity if people were unable to trust in the truth of sporting results, or if cynicism and disenchantment were to drown out enthusiasm” or joyful and unselfish participation, he said in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall. He spoke during the opening ceremony of a world conference on faith and sport hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture Oct. 6-7.
The event began with Italian soccer forward Alessandro del Piero entering on stage, juggling a soccer ball as Italian Paralympic runner Giusy Versace sprinted down the corridors to the stage on her prosthetic running blades.
Marked with music, dancing, acrobatic martial arts and personal testimonies by athletes, the ceremony was attended by hundreds of conference participants and special guests, including Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby and representatives of major religions.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also attended the opening ceremony. Chinese pianist Lang Lang provided musical interludes and a concert following the opening event.
In his talk, the pope mentioned a campaign led by the United Nations to “fight against the cancer of corruption in all areas of society.”
“When people strive to create a society that is fairer and transparent, they collaborate with the work of God,” he said.
The pope presented “representatives of sport and of the businesses that sponsor sporting events” with the task and challenge to maintain the honesty of sport and protect it “from the manipulations and commercial abuse.”
“In sport, as in life, competing for the result is important, but playing well and fairly is even more important,” he said.
The pope underlined the importance of inclusion so that all people, especially those who live on the margins of society, can benefit from the joy, power of teamwork and well-being such physical activity can bring.
The Paralympic movement, Special Olympics and other associations encouraging people with disabilities “have had a decisive role in helping the public recognize and admire the extraordinary performances of athletes with different abilities and capacities,” he said.
Recalling how children will find a way to have fun even with an old deflated ball or one made out of rags, the pope encouraged everyone, including religious communities, to work together and make sure all children “can take up sport in circumstances of dignity, especially those who are excluded due to poverty.”
He said he was pleased that among those attending the conference were the founders of the Homeless Cup and other foundations that, “through sport, offer the most disadvantaged a possibility of integral human development.”
The Vatican conference brought together representatives of major religions, global leaders in business, education and sport, and other “influencers” to launch a movement called the “Humanity Sports Club” to use sports to help people develop life skills and the values of compassion, respect and love.