Sports and peace have been a winning combination since ancient times, when an “Olympic truce” was put in force during the games that were celebrated in honor of Zeus. All public and private hostilities were put on hold in order to safeguard the athletes and spectators who had to cross enemy territories in order to reach Olympia.
The International Day of Sport that will be celebrated April 6 will be held on the same day that, in 1896, saw the reopening of the Olympic Games for the modern era, once again in Greece. This emphasizes the value and relevance of this year’s Day of Sport.
Paolo Cipolli is the director of Sportmeet, an international network of athletes and sports professionals. Since 2002 it has been dedicated to and contributed toward developing a sports culture that is focused on peace, development and universal fraternity.
“Sport, which some sociologists have defined as an ‘imitation of war’ or ‘war without shooting,’ can still represent an element of reconciliation despite its combative content,” says Cipolli. “Through a process of catharsis, purification through conflict and the element of competition, controlled by the rules of the game, sports holds great potential for relationships.”
The recent Winter Games are a great example. “What happened at PyeongChang was truly surprising,” says Cipolli. “At first, the choice of a venue near the border of the two Koreas, especially during a time when there were escalating tensions, seemed ill-fated. And yet, the miracle of sport occurred, and the Olympics showed themselves to be not only an extraordinary chance to change the expectations of a breakdown, but also a surprising opportunity to bring the two countries closer. It was a miracle that threw a curve ball at international politics,” he says.
“This has happened before. Many times in recent history, sports became an opportunity to ease tensions. I remember that famous game of ping pong between China and the United States in 1971.”
Sportmeet, which began within the Focolare Movement, promotes values of holistic personal growth and peace within the world of sports. What are its goals?
“What moves us is the drive to bring our spiritual legacy, Chiara Lubich’s ideal of unity, into this area. We support the positive experiences that exist, recognizing everything good that the history of sport has brought about to date. We also hope to grow awareness that sports has great possibilities for developing fraternity.
“Recently we had the opportunity to promote and participate in the first Via Pacis Half Marathon in Rome. We will continue to work in partnership with various religious communities and sports institutions for the next marathon, to be held on September 23.”
The reality of limitations runs through all our lives, whether individually or collectively. It is a mold we all come through, with disadvantages, difficulties and social hurdles, both physical and psychological. How does sports address this?
“The experience of sports contributes to an understanding of limitations that goes beyond its specific area of expertise. By its very nature, sports is a contest with limitations. Promoting participation prepares us for differences, opening pathways to integrate and overcome any political, religious, ethnic or social barriers.”
“We are organizing an international conference around these themes, to be held April 20–22 in Rome. It will be open to those working in the field of sports and others, in order to learn about and promote good practices.
“On the main day, April 21, there will be an ‘Earth Village’ at Villa Borghese, where we will get together with participants from the Eco-One conference entitled ‘Nature breaks limits.’ We’ll take an interdisciplinary approach to limitations.
“It will be a roaming conference between the Corviale neighborhood, which is on the geographic and social margins of the city, and central Rome. It will be a chance to see the difficulty, vulnerability and the ‘margins’ and realize that they are limits to recognize.
“They make us more human.”