Bach, Pope pledge collab to foster inclusion, access to sport for all

Olympic flag

During the International Summit on Sport, held at the Vatican on 29 and 30 September, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach joined Pope Francis and other leaders from major sports and inter-governmental organisations in signing a new declaration to foster inclusion and access to sport for all.

Recent times have seen the emergence of new challenges for societies, many of them accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Declaration recognises the important role that sport plays in turning these challenges into opportunities and most notably in contributing to a more inclusive society, in which every person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability. The Declaration is a new commitment to promote the social and inclusive benefits of sport.

“Our conference and the Declaration that we will sign today are the latest demonstration of our shared belief in the power of sport to make the world a better place,” said Bach in his speech. “I would like to thank Our Holy Father for this wonderful initiative that illustrates how well faith and sport can complement each other. Both faith and sport share many of the same values that guide us to live together in peace with our fellow human beings.”

At the meeting between Pope Francis and Bach in the Vatican, they discussed sport and the contribution of sport to solidarity and peace around the world. The Pope expressed his appreciation for the initiatives being taken by the IOC, particularly the support for refugees though the Refugee Olympic Team and the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF).

Addressing the Summit, Bach underlined the Olympic Movement’s mission to promote sport as a force for good in the world and highlighted its ongoing commitment to foster solidarity, peace and non-discrimination.

“In these difficult times – with divisions and wars on the rise – we need this unifying power of sport to promote our Olympic mission of peace and solidarity more than ever,” he said.

“But peace is about much more than setting aside differences. It is also about creating a better world where everyone is able to flourish; where people are treated equally; where all forms of discrimination and exclusion have no place.”

He continued: “While we are determined to strive for peace, we have to be realistic about our limitations. We know that sport alone cannot create peace. We cannot take decisions on war and peace – this is under the exclusive authority of politics.

“And yet, knowing that we operate within these limitations, there is a unique pathway to peace for us. This pathway is about bringing people together in peace and solidarity. This is our role: to support and strengthen pathways to peace; to foster and promote understanding and solidarity between people and nations. In our increasingly confrontational and fragile world, we see how relevant our mission of building a more peaceful world through sport is in our times.”

Bach also highlighted some of the areas in which the IOC is already working to foster and promote solidarity through sport, including the creation of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the establishment of the ORF.

“Our vision at the Olympic Refuge Foundation is a society where everyone belongs, through sport,” he said. “Our UNHCR partners have told us many times that whenever they ask refugees what they need most after food and shelter, the answer is almost always sport. That is because sport is about so much more than physical activity.

“Sport is empowerment. Sport is inclusion. Sport is respect. Sport is health. Sport is building confidence and dialogue. Sport is solidarity. Sport is peace.”

Closing his speech, Bach urged all attendees to work together to ensure the unifying power of sport is fully realised.

“Our conference today is proof of this shared desire for peace in our times,” he said. “This is why, in this Olympic spirit of peace and solidarity, I extend the hand of the Olympic Movement to people of all faiths to work together for a better world through sport, for a world of solidarity and peace.”

The International Summit on Sport welcomed more than 200 people from the world of sport, including International Federations and amateur sports associations. Amongst the speakers were Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and IOC member Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic.

At the congress, representatives of different Christian denominations and other religions were in attendance, together with representatives from non-profit organisations and educational institutions working for inclusion in society through sport.