Vice President and Executive Director of Community Relations and 49ers Foundations Joanne Pasternack recently attended the Sport at the Service of Humanity convening at The Vatican.
Learn more about the event by taking a look at her three-part blog post.
Day One: Opening Ceremony
Two hundred delegates and their guests were greeted by vibrant signs showcasing the declaration of principles for the event focusing on leveraging the belief that “sport has the power to celebrate our community humanity, regardless of faith, race, culture, belief, gender or identity.” Based on the diversity of the delegates, including the 49ers being represented by me, it was clear that the group was reflective of this statement. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi – President, Pontifical Council for Culture – opened by sharing his vision for the convening. “It will be an occasion to come together to face up to the great challenges of contemporary society, which are shared interests for the world’s sporting and religious communities," he said. "Sport is also of such fundamental important for education, allowing young people to meet opponents on a level playing field while striving to be the best they can be.”
After an uplifting opening ceremony featuring Italian Olympians and Paralympians, children, and musical performances, Pope Francis arrived. He stopped to greet the attendees with warm handshakes and hugs as he walked towards the stage. Pope Francis was flanked by interdenominational religious leaders and sports leaders from the United Nations, International Olympic Committee. Many others who welcomed him to the stage, and then shared their thoughts on the desired outcomes for the convening. Athletes from all demographics – including Olympians, Paralympians, Special Olympics athletes, children and coaches – then joined Pope Francis. They presented him with gifts. They also provided their perspective on the opportunity presented by the event. The ceremony was closed by Pope Francis who stated, “Sports make it possible to build a culture of encounter among everyone, for a world of peace. I dream of Sport as the practice of human dignity, turned into a vehicle of fraternity." The comments set the stage for Day Two where the concepts of “Sport for Life,” “Sport for All,” and “Sport for Change” was discussed by the delegates. Before departing, Pope Francis visited with the children – many of whom took the occasion to snap some selfies.
The delegates then made their way through the Sistine Chapel to an outdoor concert by famed Chinese pianist, Ling Ling. After the concert, a traditional family-style Italian dinner was served in the Great Hall of The Vatican Museum where conversations continued for many hours based on the topics introduced during the Opening Ceremony.
Day Two: Inspiration, Inclusion, Involvement
As the mission for the convening conveyed: “Sport is our passion. It brings together people from all walks of life. And whether you’re playing, supporting or coaching, we believe this shared love of sport can help change the game and have a positive impact both on and off the sport field.”
The second day of the conference focused on those topics. They were explored through a series of sessions facilitated by representatives from the NHL, MLB, MLS, NCAA, Big East, PGA, international non-profits, Premier League, Special Olympics, Olympics, Paralympics, United Nations, universities, Beyond Sport, corporations and others.
The second day focused on the legacy of the conference. Following a benediction from multi-faith religious leaders, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi reminded the participants one key thing. “There are many thousands of organizations connected to sport, who are already hugely committed to giving back to their communities, helping the disadvantaged, bringing support to other underserved groups – all using sport for common good," he said.
Throughout the day, the delegates not only had an opportunity to hear from some of the most influential leaders in sport but also sought to solidify an action plan through a series of breakout sessions. Facilitated by the BBC’s David Eades, speakers included Tim Shriver (Chairman, Special Olympics) and Lorretta Claiborne (Chief Inspirational Officer and Athlete, Special Olympics), Sir Philip Craven (President, International Paralympic Committee), Kirsty Coventry (five-time Olympian and seven-time Olympic Medalist, Swimming for Zimbabwe), HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein (President, Jordanian Olympic Committee), Ivan Gazidis (CEO, Arsenal Football Club), Linda Catherine Hofstad Helleland (Minister of Culture and Sport, Norway), Nick Keller (CEO, Beyond Sport), Johann Olav Koss (Founder, Right to Play), Erwin McManus (Founder & Lead Pastor, MOSAIC – Los Angeles), Mel Young (President, Homeless World Cup) and Bea Perez (Chief Sustainability Officer, Coca Cola).
During breakout sessions, I was part of a select group of participants, who weighed in on inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities and the role of professional sports teams in encouraging support for and involvement in sport for service. After a terrific day of formal conversations during sessions and informal connections made during breaks and lunch, the delegates were invited into The Vatican Museums for a dinner hosted by the International Olympic Committee.
Day Three: Developing an Action Plan
The final day of the conference sought to synthesize three days of learning and discussions. As one attendees stated, “We are at the starting blocks in this race and now we need to decide which way to run.” The day began with inspiring comments from rugby legends Sean Fitzpatrick (former New Zealand All Blacks Captain) and Hugo Porta (former Argentina Union Rugby Captain) surrounding their learnings from inspiration on the pitch. They were followed by United Nations Ambassador of Sports and Peace and women’s rights advocate, Tegla Loroupe (Kenyan champion marathon runner, world record holder and Founder and President of the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation). Tegla’s moving story chronicled her journey as a woman growing up in a small village, facing extreme adversity and later leading efforts to support the first Refugee Olympic team at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Tegla lead the delegates into a robust session with the leaders for each of the breakout meetings providing summaries of their discussions and suggested action items. The day’s discussions closed with a distinguished panel discussion on Big Business and Sport lead by Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, John Mara Owner of the New York Football Giants, Luc Robitaille Pres of Business Ops for the Los Angeles Kings, Naseema Sparks of AIG and George Pyne, CEO of Bruin Sports Capital. To signal the conclusion of the convening, Cardinal Ravasi shared his reflections before ending with an impactful recitation of an Irish poem wishing everyone a safe journey.
As a symbol of commitment to continuing the discussions started at the convening, the delegates then signed a “Declaration of Principles” in the Papal Hall before gathering once more for lunch and informal discussions.
While quantification of the experience is impossible, it truly felt like the start of a movement that has tremendous potential through the leveraging of the collective reach, impact, commitment and energy of the delegates.