“Giving the Best of Yourself”, the Vatican gives its Christian perspective on sport

“Giving the Best of Yourself”, the Vatican gives its Christian perspective on sport

“Giving the Best of Yourself”, the Vatican gives its Christian perspective on sport

By Andrea Tornielli/ lastampa.it

The Dicastery for the Laity’s document denounces the four challenges for sporting activities: debasement of the body, doping, corruption and uncontrolled cheering,

“Giving one’s very best is a fundamental theme in sports, as athletes both individually and collectively strive to achieve their goals in the game” and when “a person gives their very best, they experience satisfaction and the joy of accomplishment”. “The same is true in human life in general and in living out the Christian faith”. It is the Christian perspective on sport contained in the document of the Dicastery for the Laity and the Family entitled “Giving the best of yourself “and published Friday, June 1, 2018, along with a letter by Pope Francis. “The Church – it reads - regards sport with esteem because she values “everything that contributes to the harmonious and complete development of the person, body and soul”.

After retracing the history of Pierre de Coubertin’s rediscovery of the Olympic idea at the end of the nineteenth century, what he had in mind “ was a global pedagogical program in order to educate the youth of the world. “. But for de Coubertin, “Olympism was decisively a this-worldly religion “. And so “Though, in most cases, sport no longer claims to be a religion or to have an intrinsic connection with other human achievements as arts, music or poetry, it still is in danger of being commissioned for ideological purposes”.

The Vatican Department observes that “sport - and in particular high-level sport - is often exploited for political, commercial or ideological purposes”. It can be “used for ideological purposes when the playing field becomes tilted toward the West and toward wealth, and when sport simply reinforces existing power structures or promulgates cultural values of the elite”. With respect to global sporting events such as the Olympic Games, the document states that “if more non-Western countries were represented with respect to the location of the Games as well as the origin of the sports played and representation on the IOC, they would even more successfully be living out their mandate by being truly global and also gathering in the best of each country”.

The document does not fail to note that “modern sport, particularly professional sport, also serves external purposes as, for instance, to gain glory for the nation, to show the supremacy of a political system or simply to make money”. The need for funds to finance sporting activities “transforms sport into a product that promises to satisfy the interests of various individuals, groups or institutions. And so, “sport becomes a kind of product which promises to satisfy the interests of various individuals, groups and institutions. That is why the sport system itself is so readily and easily available to serve the ideological, political or economic purposes of others, for otherwise it would not be able to generate the resources it needs to survive”.

The document also recalls the importance of an initial and founding premise for sporting activities: “cooperation and agreement about the constitutive rules”. In this sense, “the dynamic of sport is the opposite of that of war, which takes place when people believe that cooperation is no longer possible and when there is a lack of agreement on fundamental rules. In sports, the competitor is participating in a rule-governed contest, not against an enemy who must be annihilated”. And in an individualistic context like the present, “Sport is a school of teamwork that helps us overcome selfishness”.

After explaining the meaning of the word “sacrifice”, the Vatican document explains that “ When sport is practiced with the attitude of “winning at all costs,” sport itself is seriously threatened”. With regard to one’s own body, a desire to rise higher at any cost determines behavior and has serious consequences”. The text states that the dignity and “the rights of the person can never be arbitrarily subjected to other interests. Nor can athletes be turned into a type of merchandise”.

It therefore calls for sports to guarantee “general rights of a life in dignity and freedom, particularly for “the poor and the weak, especially children who have the right to be protected in their bodily integrity”. “Incidences of abuse of children, whether physical, sexual or emotional by coaches, trainers or other adults are a direct affront to the young person who is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore to God. Institutions that sponsor sport programs for youth, including at the elite level, must develop policies with the help of experts that ensure the safety of all children”.

It should be remembered that “Sporting activity does not leave this environment intact, however.” It has an impact on the natural environments “in some cases for the long term”. So athletes and persons sponsoring sports events have an added responsibility which is the task of treating creation with the utmost respect”. Moreover, “in sports in which animals are involved, attention must be paid to ensure that they are treated in a morally appropriate way and not as mere objects”.

Then the document lists Four specific challenging developments. The first is the debasement of the body: “ While participation in sport can be a positive way of experiencing one’s embodiment, it can also be a context in which the human body is reduced to the status of an object or is experienced solely in material terms”. It happens that Parents, coaches, and societies are often involved in automating athletes in order to guarantee success and satisfy hopes of medals, records, scholarships, lucrative advertising contracts and wealth. Aberrations of this kind can be seen in highly competitive children’s sports”.

A second challenge is doping, which “ affects the fundamental understanding of sport. And unfortunately today, it is practiced by individual athletes as well as teams and even nation states. Doping raises a series of difficult moral issues because it does not correspond with the values of health and fair play”. “To combat the dangers of physical and mechanical doping and to support fair play in sporting competitions, it is not enough to appeal only to the individual morals of the athletes. The problem of doping cannot be assigned only to the individual sportsperson, no matter how much that individual is to blame. This is a wider problem. It is the responsibility of sports organizations to create effective rules and basic institutional conditions that support and reward individual sportspeople for their responsibility and reduce any encouragement to resort to doping. In the globalized world of sport, effective and coordinated international efforts are needed. Others who exercise significant influence in sports today such as the media and financial and political agents, must also be involved”.

The third challenge is corruption, which “can ruin sport”. It is used to exploit the sense of sporting competition of players and spectators who are deliberately cheated and deceived. Corruption does not just concern a single sporting event as it can spread to sporting policies. Decisions pertaining to sports are then made by external actors for financial or political interests. Equally reprehensible is any kind of bribery in relation to sports betting.

Finally, the fourth challenge, involving fans and spectators. “Spectators during sport activities and games watch and support together as one body of fans. This common feeling across ages, sex, race, religious belief, is a wonderful source of joy, and beauty”. However, “in some cases, spectators despise the opposing players and their supporters or the referees. This behavior can deteriorate into violence, either vocally (by singing hateful songs) or physically. Fights between competing fans appear and violate the fair play that always should reign during sport events”. And “ a fan can use a sport event to spread racism, or extremist ideologies”. We also need fair play with regard to the spectators who support the opposing team, all forms of denigration or violence must be condemned and those responsible for sporting events have a responsibility to ensure that spectator behavior respects the dignity of all persons participating in or attending sporting events.

The Church wants to accompany sporting activities and present sport as an educational experience: “The person does not exist to serve sport, but rather sport should serve the human person in his or her integral development.” And recalls that “sport is also the way to bring young people closer to the cardinal virtues of fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice and facilitate their growth in them”. Sport “to create a culture of encounter and peace”, “it is one of the few realities capable of overcoming the borders between religions and cultures”.

Moreover, sport “can also be a great opportunity to be close to people who live in marginal or uncomfortable conditions”, involving “youth and teens who live in environments susceptible to gang violence, drug abuse and trafficking”. “ Christian communities around the world are already involved in initiatives that use sport practices, training and events as relevant tools to draw youth away from drugs and violence”.

If sport runs the risk of being the occasion to divide a family and to diminish the sanctity of Sunday as a holy day to uphold, it also can help integrate a family with other families in the celebration of Sunday, not only in the liturgy but in the life of the community”. sports club in a parish needs to be consistent with the faith commitments of the parish and anchored in an educational and pastoral project”. In addition, parishes could and should promote sport activities not only for youth but also to their elderly members.

Finally, Sport “can be counter-cultural in that it provides young people with the opportunity for face to face encounters with other youth, who at times have very different backgrounds from their own”. While playing on a team, they learn how to deal with conflict with one another in a direct way, while engaging in an activity that means a great deal to them. They also have the opportunity to play against young people from other parts of their community, country or the world and so expand their range of human contacts”.

In the letter accompanying the document, sent by the Pope to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Department for the Laity, Family and Life, Francis recalls that sport “is also a vehicle for formation” and “a means of mission and sanctification”.

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 21:44
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