As the Pope was approaching the end of an audience with the Italian Basketball Federation Pope Francis praised the gesture of Manchester City coach, Pep Guardiola, who kissed the medal received after the defeat of his team in the final of Champions League with Chelsea.
“I would like to underline the attitude in front of defeat – said the Pontiff speaking ‘off the cuff’. They told me that, one of these days, I don’t know where, there was a winner and one who finished second; that didn’t make it. The one who finished second kissed the medal “. “Usually, when we finish second, we are sad, and possibly throw away the medal. However this person kissed the medal”, he pointed out.
“This teaches us – he continued – that even in defeat there can be a victory: taking defeats with maturity, because this makes you grow. It makes you understand that in life not always everything is sweet, not always everything is winning, sometimes you have this experience of defeat. And when a sportsman, a sportswoman, knows how to win defeat like this, with dignity, with humanity, with a big heart – he concluded – this is a true honour, a true human victory.”
Pope Francis went on to emphasise two important aspects of sporting activities – teamwork and discipline.
He noted that even though some sports are “individual,” sports bring people – often from unknown and different backgrounds – to form relationships with each other in order to “come together and fight for a common goal.”
“Two things are important: being united and having a goal,” the Pope said, adding that in this sense, sports become “a medicine for the individualism of our societies,” which sometimes creates isolated, sad individuals incapable of being “team players” and of “cultivating a passion for good ideals.”
Commitment to sports, the Pope continued, reminds us of “the value of fraternity, which is also at the heart of the Gospel.”
“An attitude of the sportsperson is discipline,” Pope Francis pointed out, adding that many people who are passionate about sports often do not know how much work and training go into a competition.
Speaking further, he noted that discipline is not only physical, but also internal, as it requires “physical exercise, constancy, attention to an orderly life in schedules and nutrition, as well as rest alternated with the fatigue of training.”
This discipline, the Pope continued, “is a school of formation and education,” especially for young people, as, in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, it helps “put one’s life in order”.
At the same time, it “is not meant to make us rigid, but to make us responsible: for ourselves, for the things entrusted to us, for others, for life in general.”
Pope Francis also noted that discipline helps spiritual life “which cannot be left to the emotions alone nor can it be lived in alternating phases” or when it is convenient.
In this sense, it also requires “an inner discipline made up of fidelity, constancy, and a daily commitment to prayer” because “without constant inner training, faith runs the risk of dying out.
Turning his thoughts to the sport of basketball, Pope Francis reiterated the words of a famous basketballer who said that “it is a sport that looks up, towards the basket, and therefore it is a real challenge for all those who are used to living with their eyes always on the ground.”
On this note, the Holy Father urged the governing body to “promote healthy play among children and young people, to help young people to look up, to never give up, and to discover that life is a path made up of losses and victories.”
In all, the Pope stressed that the important thing is that young people do not lose the desire to “play the game” and understand that even if they do not “make the shot” they have not lost forever.
“You can always go to the court again, you can still team up with others, and you can attempt another shot,” Pope Francis said.
ANSA / VATICAN