"Sport should always be at the service of the person and society, not the interests and logics of power. Sport must promote a healthy competitiveness, without giving in to the temptation to win by flouting the rules. Many young people look to you and support you: you are models for them, do not disappoint them! I hope you will play well while having fun, spreading the values of friendship, solidarity, and peace both on and off the field."
“Together with the General Secretariat of the Italian Episcopal Conference, you are on a path to spread the educational values of sport throughout the country and in sports clubs, with an integral perspective that combines technique with the possibility of giving one’s best, both in competitive activity and in life. Indeed, sport should always be at the service of the person and society, not the interests and logics of power,” the Pope said in his address. “I would therefore like to encourage you to continue on the journey you have undertaken, proposing some indications that I draw from the fundamental actions of your sport.
“First of all, the serve, which is the first shot that starts the game. During the match, as in daily life, it is necessary to take the initiative, to assume responsibility, to get involved. Never stay still! Sport can help a great deal to overcome timidness and fragility, to mature one’s awareness of being protagonists, without ever forgetting that “the dignity of the human being constitutes the purpose and measure of every sporting activity” (John Paul II, Homily for the International Athletes’ Jubilee, 12 April 1984).
The serve is answered by receiving the ball. Just as one needs to be ready to receive the ball to send it to a determined area, it is important to be willing to accept suggestions and to listen, humbly and patiently. One does not become a champion without a guide, without a coach willing to accompany, motivate, correct without humiliation, raising when one falls, and sharing the joy of victory. This takes people who are solid points of reference, capable of teaching how to “receive” well, identifying the talents of their athletes to enable them to bear fruit in the best possible way.
Then there is the pass towards the companion who has the task of completing the action. We are never alone; there is always someone to serve. There exists not only the individual dimension, but you are part of a group: each person is required to give their own contribution so that you can win together. Team players are like the members of a body: Saint Paul said that “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy” (I Cor 12:26). In a world where we jostle to be seen and to emerge at all costs, where I comes before we, where the weak and unproductive are discarded, sport can be a convincing sign of unity, of integration, and can send out a strong message of peace and friendship.
The action of attacking is certainly decisive; it enables you to score points and to build victory. Sport must promote a healthy competitiveness, without giving in to the temptation to win by flouting the rules. Sacrifice, training, and rigour are indispensable elements of sport, whereas the practice of doping, besides being dangerous, is a deception, a deception that takes away the beauty and enjoyment of the game, tainting it with falsity and making it unclean.
"It is important to be willing to accept suggestions and to listen, humbly and patiently. One does not become a champion without a guide, without a coach willing to accompany, motivate, correct without humiliation, raising when one falls, and sharing the joy of victory. Each person is required to give their own contribution so that you can win together."
To oppose the attack, you form a wall. This word makes us think of the walls present in various parts of the world, a sign of division and closure, of people’s incapacity to engage in dialogue, of the presumption of those who think they can save themselves alone. Instead, in volleyball, when you form a wall, you jump high to face the dunk of the adversary: this gesture helps us to think of the word in a positive light. Jumping up high means detaching oneself from the ground, from materialism and therefore from all the logic of business that undermines the spirit of sport. Money and success should never detract from the component of play, of fun. And this is why I strongly advise: never neglect the amatorial element of sport. Sport is either amatorial or it is not sport. This must be preserved very well, because in this way you preserve your pure heart.
Dear friends, thank you for this visit, and I urge you always to be witnesses of correctness and loyalty. Many young people look to you and support you: you are models for them, do not disappoint them! I hope you will play well while having fun, spreading the values of friendship, solidarity, and peace both on and off the field. I heartily bless you and your loved ones. And please, I ask you to pray for me. Thank you!”
Mr Manfredi, visibly excited, was the ‘spokesman’ for the group and presented Pope Francis with a blue shirt. After this historic meeting with the Holy Father, the entire Italian delegation then moved to the Foyer of the Conciliazione Auditorium for a moment of conviviality. Before the final greetings, the Italian Volleyball Federation donated technical material to support migrants staying at the Astalli Centre who are passionate about Volleyball or did even play the game themselves in their respective countries of origin.
FIPAV President, Giuseppe Manfredi: “For us and all the players it was a fantastic day that we will remember for the rest of our lives. I am happy that today these athletes, who have achieved incredible results, had the opportunity to meet the Holy Father. I take this opportunity to thank all those who worked for the success of this day which will remain in our hearts forever. We will continue to move forward; I see the boys and girls very motivated and still have great enthusiasm. This leaves me hopeful for the near future.”
Ferdinando De Giorgi, head coach of the Italian men’s national team, who are the reigning World and European champions: “Today was a unique day. Each of us perceived the importance of the meeting we had in the Vatican with the Pope. At the same time, we once again had proof of the affection and attention that there is towards us for the path that we have followed as a federation and as a team. I really liked the Holy Father’s speech which linked the fundamentals of Volleyball to spirituality and to the social value that sport can generate. As the Pope also repeated, we are seen as models by the youngsters and therefore we have an extra responsibility towards the new generations. This year will be a particularly important summer which will start with the VNL, then continue with the European Championship to be played at home and finally there will be the qualifying tournament for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. A very important season, therefore, which will represent an opportunity for us to raise the bar even further. We will have to live these events with the same values and humility that have characterised us in these two years.”
Davide Mazzanti, head coach of the women’s national team: “Being here today is a gift. The youth national teams were present together with the seniors and seeing the multitude of people who work to make the many national teams excel was wonderful. I was very impressed by Pope Francis’ words, especially when he spoke of the joy of our role as coaches as a vehicle to reach the youngest. The next two years will be very demanding, and we will need a lot of energy. We will have to put to good use all the experience we have gained over the years. I borrow the words used by Miriam Sylla in the docufilm “An extraordinary year” in which she says that we must always fight to the end as long as our heart beats and as long as our legs hold up.”
Simone Giannelli, captain of the men’s national team: “Today was an incredible experience, I never imagined being here in the Vatican to meet the Pope. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this day that I will carry forever in my heart. We have a responsibility towards the younger players and in addition to being good athletes, we must be good people off the court too. This is what we must convey to every boy who looks at us and follows us. Each of us knows that he will be wearing the blue shirt for a limited time. Therefore, we must always honour it and wear it with great pleasure and pride.”
Ofelia Malinov, member of the women’s team: “It was an indescribable emotion to meet the Holy Father. Above all, it is not something that happens every day. We are truly proud and honoured to have participated in this private audience. The Pope reminded us that we play sports to have fun and that at the same time we have the privilege to entertain others. If there is fun, there is everything. It was really exciting to hear these words.”
All pictures courtesy of Vatican Media