A new Vatican document cautions against the dangers of highly competitive children’s sports, political and economic pressures on athletes to win “at all costs” and the unsportsmanlike or violent behaviour of fans.
The document, “Giving the Best of Yourself,” also condoned sports on Sundays as a means of bringing families and communities together in joy and celebration, but only as long as such events are not used as an excuse to miss Mass.
The document was released by the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, and is the first Vatican document on sports, said Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the dicastery’s prefect.
The 52-page document highlighted the Church’s positive view of the important values inherent to sport and blew the whistle on the growing threats in the sports world, including corruption, over-commercialisation, manipulation and abuse.
While not trying to touch on every problem or concern or pinpoint one sport in particular, the document listed what it saw as four serious challenges that are the result of an obsession with success and the huge economic and political pressures put on sports and athletes: the debasement of the body, doping, corruption and the negative behaviour of spectators.
“Sports that inevitably cause serious harm to the human body cannot be ethically justified,” it said. Given the greater understanding people now have about the harmful effects of some sports on the body, particularly brain damage, all of society must put the well-being and health of the person first.
People are not machines, it said, and parents, coaches and communities must avoid objectifying players, particularly with expectations they receive medals, scholarships, wealth or break records.
“Aberrations of this kind can be seen in highly competitive children’s sports,” it said, noting an increase in pushing kids to specialise – often starting very early in life – in one sport intensively year-round, which can result in overuse injuries or eating disorders, particularly in girls’ and women’s gymnastics.
“Parents have a responsibility of showing children that they are loved for who they are, not for their successes, appearance or physical abilities,” it said.
The document drew upon talks and teachings from Popes Pius X to Francis, as well as St Thomas Aquinas, bishops’ conferences and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It also cited contemporary experts, theologians and athletes, including David Meggyesy, former St Louis Cardinals linebacker, who detailed the dehumanising effects of American football in his book, Out of Their League.
Lastly, the document emphasised how sports must always include fun. Competition is meant to fruitfully engage and draw the best out of people, it said, not to face “an enemy who must be annihilated.”
Pope Francis, it said, invites people not only to play, but also to “challenge yourself in the game of life,” striving for what is good with courage and enthusiasm.
“Don’t settle for a mediocre ‘tie,’ give it your best, spend your life on what really matters and lasts forever,” Pope Francis said.
Full story at The Catholic Herald.