Sport at the Service of Humanity: Pope Francis inspires a global movement

November 30, 2017

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Originally posted on The Washington Times

“Challenge yourself in the game of life, as you do in the game of sport.”

It was with these words in 2015 that His Holiness Pope Francis inspired the launch of Sport at the Service of Humanity (SSH), a global movement that embraces the unique ability of faith and sport to promote positive values, unite people for good and celebrate our common humanity, regardless of culture or religious beliefs.

The SSH movement really took off in October 2016 with the historic “Sport at the Service of Humanity: The First Global Conference on Faith & Sport.” Held at the Vatican, the event was led by Pope Francis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who welcomed more than 400 leaders and influencers from the worlds of faith, sport and business. At the three-day conference, delegates discussed how faith and sport could work together for the betterment of the world. Three key themes — inspiration, inclusion and involvement — served as the framework for the discussions.

At the conclusion of the global conference, the delegates unanimously endorsed the Six Principles of Sport at the Service Humanity — compassion, respect, love, enlightenment, balance and joy — the foundation upon which the movement and its legacy program, Humanity Sports Club, is built. (

One of the most notable things about the conference was that it was not about organized religion but rather restoring faith in humanity, and revealing more of the infinite goodness that lives in most people. SSH sought to refocus the world leaders on the amazing “power of sport” — namely, sport is inherently good (for mind, body and spirit), and sport can do good (ping-pong diplomacy, etc., and simply bringing people of different backgrounds together, whether as participants or spectators).

With all the challenges currently impacting society, particularly with scandals and corruption at the highest levels of religion, sports, politics, the media and entertainment, Pope Francis felt it was necessary and timely for faith and sport to remind and reawaken people to the massive power that these two pillars of human life can provide, especially when they work harmoniously together!

At its core, Sport at the Service for Humanity is the opportunity for us to take all that is good in faith and in sport, and marry the two for the betterment of society. We are encouraged to see that since the 2016 conference, the movement has gained momentum, inspiring individuals and sports organizations to embrace this message and take action to create impactful change and positive social transformation.

After attending last year’s conference, the NHL’s Pat LaFontaine and Los Angeles Kings’ Luc Robitaille were so inspired by the idea of infusing the universal values of faith into sport that they championed the creation of the “This is Hockey” movement and Hockey’s Declaration of Principles — a joint statement by 17 hockey organizations globally advocating the game of hockey as a powerful platform for participants to build character, foster positive values and develop important life skills that transcend the game. Not surprisingly, hockey’s initiative received a written endorsement from Pope Francis.

At the 2016 conference, a partnership between FC Barcelona and the U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) was discussed to use sport as a transformational tool to help refugees reintegrate into society. This resulted in the #SignAndPass campaign, launched with the support of soccer stars Lionel Messi and Neymar Junior, calling on supporters to digitally sign a football online and then pass it to their friends via social media. By signing the ball, supporters add their name to UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, which calls on world governments and fellow citizens to make sure all refugees can have a safe place to live, receive an education and are able to work so they can provide for their families.

This June, Villanova University and the Big East Athletic Conference hosted a two-day conference for faith-based colleges in North America to come together in finding better ways to develop future leaders for our global society by emphasizing and developing the SSH’s Six Principles among student athletes and the campus community.

We have also witnessed the impact and strength of the SSH movement within communities around the globe. In September, the inaugural Rome Half Marathon Via Pacis was organized by the City of Rome, the Italian Olympic Committee and other sport organizations to engage the community to take a unified stand against racism and discrimination. And in Canada, youth attending the Muskoka Woods leadership program participated in a two-day workshop led by SSH facilitators, designed to inspire youth through the Six Principles to live a life that values our shared humanity.

As we move forward, I challenge each and every person to find ways to bring the Sport at the Service of Humanity’s Six Principles to life, both on and off the playing field. By incorporating the principles of compassion, respect, love, enlightenment, balance and joy into our daily lives, we can create a society of inclusion and involvement, and inspire those around us to do the same. For leaders in sport, the challenge is to model these same principles in the way they administrate or coach and to openly and formally incorporate these values within every game and practice so they become naturally imbedded in the way “the game of sports is played.”

Bernie Mullin, Ph.D., is Chairman and CEO of The Aspire Group, a global management and marketing consulting business focusing on the sport and entertainment industry. He is a founding director of the Sport at the Service of Humanity Foundation. For more information on the Sport at the Service of Humanity movement, upcoming initiatives and the Declaration of Principles, visit: or follow us on Twitter (@sport4humanity) and Facebook (@6principles.sport4humanity)

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