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Spirit of fair play

  • July 16, 2015

Much has been written about the impressive physical legacy the Pan Am Games has generated for Southern Ontario. More than $2 billion was spent on housing, transit and sport facilities that will benefit future generations long after the Pan Am flame is doused.

But as the Games unfold in all their drama and celebration it is apparent that, to be a total triumph, the multi-sport, multi-nation competition must also achieve a spiritual legacy.

That type of legacy is more difficult to measure but no less important. It’s not found as a line in the Pan Am budget or even as an item in the minutes of any organizational meeting. But that doesn’t make it any less real or less critical.

In many respects, faith is like sport. To achieve the ultimate goal in each requires hard work and personal sacrifice, plus an optimistic persistence to overcome the failures and pains inevitable along the way. In that respect, Pan Am athletes can often be positive role models for those striving for gold in their spiritual life.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis said living a life of faith is an essential component of a truly fulfilled athletic life. Faith and following Christ puts victories and defeats in perspective, he said, because they place God first. Living a true life of faith resembles sport in that, when practised properly, each engenders loyalty, perseverance, sharing and solidarity. Faith encourages honesty, humility and respect, attributes of a true sportsman, while discouraging vanity and arrogance.  

“Faith gives us the gaze of kindness toward others and it makes us overcome the temptation of a rivalry that is too heated and aggressive,” Pope Francis said. “It makes us understand the dignity of every person, even those less gifted and the disadvantaged.”

At its best, sport can break down barriers and, said Francis, help build a world that is just and caring, a world capable of reversing the human indignities of conflict and poverty. Fair play and honest competition help to “overcome individualism, egotism, racism, intolerance and exploitation,” he said. Sport done properly reinforces the important values upon which a peaceful, faithful society is built.

If the Pan Am Games are to leave a spiritual legacy it will be forged by those young athletes who, in defeat and victory, embrace these values so openly and completely that the impact is indelible on those who cheered them. That’s not to suggest people will flock back to church after the Games — although that outcome would certainly be welcomed — but international events like these invite us to be inspired by honest competition. And then to assess our own values and priorities as we aim for the podium in our spiritual lives.

That would make the Pan Am legacy complete.

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