This is the first of a series of sport articles exploring the impact of sport on our society.
Pope Francis recently hosted the inaugural 'Sport at the Service of Humanity' Conference at the Vatican. "Sport is a human activity of great value, able to enrich people's lives." the Pontiff explained in his welcoming address.
Anyone that has been involved in any level of sport, from the elite level with its role models through to local netball clubs with its community connections, understand the power of sport to impact lives. Sport has a power to cross boundaries that few other areas can. Because of this impact in shaping our culture the Pope called this conference.
The conference brought together a wealth of people including Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations; and Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, to discuss the inter-connectedness of faith and sport and to explore the scope and limit of the combination.
It examined the way sport works across cultures as well as through political and religious boundaries. From the world-wide appeal of the Olympic Games to local backyard soccer, sport has a universal impact. It explored ways sport can work towards personal growth, societal unity and religious faith. For many years' various organisations have used sport as a vehicle to help the homeless, bring warring factions together and enrich faith.
Next month's article examines an organisation called Reclink that provide sports and arts programs to people from disadvantaged youth. Red Dust Role Models sends profile athletes into remote Indigenous communities using sport to promote healthy lifestyle. There are many different organisations that use sport to make a difference.
The Pope's warning
Apart from these positive influences the Pope also warned delegates to battle against the abuse sport can potentially have. From the lucrative business sport has become in our consumeristic society to the winner-takes-all competitiveness, sport presents many personal and societal dangers. He reminded all to "replace the money and the medals with the human being."
"Fight against the cancer of corruption in all areas of society. When people strive to create a society that is fairer and transparent, they collaborate with the work of God," the Pontiff urged.
In Australia, we can see these aspects displayed clearly as the Pope explained. On the one hand we see dangers such as drugs in sport clouding the purity of this human activity. On the other hand we see organisations such as Reclink using sport to engage those on the fringe of our society.
Next month's article will explore an organisation, Reclink, which uses sport to impact the lives of people who are at risk of disadvantage. The third article will explore a program called LifeMatters that transfers positive sporting skills into life skills.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor.
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html