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Pope Francis: Keep sports honest

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The challenge, the pope said, was to protect sports from 'manipulations and commercial abuse.'

Pope Francis waves at the end of the general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Oct. 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Max Rossi
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-SPORTS, originally transmitted on Oct. 5, 2016.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has taken his personal quest to wipe out dishonesty and corruption to the sporting arena.

Launching the Vatican’s first-ever global conference on faith and sport, the pope said Wednesday (Oct. 5) it was important to keep sports honest and protect games from abuse. The three-day conference is hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture with the support of the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee.

“Sport is a human activity of great value, able to enrich people’s lives,” the pope told the opening ceremony.  “It is enjoyed by men and women of every nation, ethnic group and religious belonging.”

But the pope, whose personal passion for the Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo is well-known, said the challenge was “maintaining the honesty of sport, of protecting it from manipulations and commercial abuse.”

“It would be sad for sport and for humanity if people were unable to trust in the truth of sporting results, or if cynicism and disenchantment were to drown out enthusiasm or joyful and disinterested participation,” he said.

“In sport, as in life, competing for the result is important, but playing well and fairly is even more important!”

The pope told guests, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, that the recent Olympic Games and Paralympic Games had captured the world’s attention and promoted inclusion.

“When we see athletes giving their very best, sport fills us with enthusiasm, with a sense of marvel, and it makes us almost feel proud.”

Francis also noted poor children who may play sport with a “rugged old deflated ball” and encouraged institutions and religious communities to ensure they have access to sporting opportunities.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)