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Professional athletes travel to Rome as US Sports Diplomacy Envoys

All roads lead to padel

 All roads lead to padel  ING-047
24 November 2023

“As you get into a court or any kind of sport, you connect with people, no matter the language, no matter where we come from, no matter the circumstances. That’s the beauty of it”. It’s what professional padel player Andrea Samson affirmed at a Sports Diplomacy reception in Rome on Thursday, 16 November. She and fellow professional padel player Anderson Good were in the Eternal City as Sports Envoys for an initiative spearheaded by the US Embassy to the Holy See, in collaboration with Athletica Vaticana and a number of local organisations dedicated to communities that face discrimination, and to children and young people with disabilities.

Speaking at the same event, which was hosted at US Ambassador Joe Donnelly’s residence, Good shared his own thoughts on sport’s positive impact on society. “Sport provides an unparalleled vehicle for education”, he said, “and this week really proved that to me”. He explained that the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture through sport “really solidified the role that sport can have unlike anything else, of being able to bring people together”.

Although a shared love of padel is what brought the two young Sports Envoys to Italy, their paths leading up to this adventure could not have been more different from each other.

For Anderson Good, the journey began on the squash courts in Philadelphia. An accomplished squash player through college, he founded the Mid-Atlantic Squash Conference ( masc ) in 2017, the first ever squash-specific collegiate athletic conference in the United States. His openness to trying new racket sports eventually led him to padel. “It just looked really fun. Using walls is something that is very natural to me from squash”, he says, speaking to L’Osservatore Romano. “I had a squash teammate of mine from college who’s from Egypt, and he introduced me to the game, and I played it once, and it was just like, ‘This game is great. It is a lot of fun. I would like to play more’, and… here we are”. Asked who his role models are, he immediately answers, “My parents, easily. My mom and my dad. No hesitation there”. His mom, he says, was an avid padel player, and his dad introduced him to squash.

Andrea Samson, on the other hand, hails from the tennis courts of Miami. The Paraguayan athlete started playing tennis when she was eight years old, and stuck with it through high school and college. She also worked as a part-time tennis coach with adults and kids for seven years. “After college I picked up on padel and have not stopped”, she tells L’Osservatore Romano. “It’s a very dynamic sport, very social, very fun, and it’s currently my obsession”, she adds with a laugh. “I can talk about padel or play padel for countless hours”. All those hours have certainly paid off, as Samson is currently the United States’ fifth best padel player nationally. Asked who her role models are, Samson says she looks up to former world-class tennis player Billie Jean King, who has been promoting women in sports for decades. “It’s just so cool right now: you can see a lot of women being equal or a lot more women being respected for any type of sports they play, and I know she did a lot of work on that, so I’m hoping I can do a little bit of my part”.

For Samson and Good, it’s clearly not just about being top athletes, as their participation in the Sports Diplomacy program shows, but about using their passion for padel to connect with others. As Good puts it, “We come from different backgrounds, we may call the game something different, but when we get on the court, you know, it’s all the same goal. We’re all playing the same game”.

Claudia Torres