Following the San Francesco Marathon in Assisi on Sunday, 5 November, which brought together Athletica Vaticana and some 2,000 runners, another event was organized to mark inclusion and solidarity.
On Wednesday, 14 November, Athletica Vaticana’s padel team and the United States Embassy to the Holy See with ‘Sports Envoys’ and professional padel players Andrea Samson and Anderson Good, played padel with young people with disabilities, vulnerable people, and students at Rome’s Villa Pamphili Padel Club. Under the patronage of the International Padel Federation, the event had the aim of offering a concrete experience in sports values, such as inclusion, fraternity and solidarity in Rome.
After welcoming words from US Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Joe Donnelly, the two US athletes said a few words of gratitude and described padel as a sport of inclusion because everyone can play and no one is excluded. “Sport has always been a great way for people to get together, so we are excited to be here” [in Rome] as “ambassadors of padel for all”, said Anderson to L’Osservatore Romano.
Indeed, there are no social differences on the court. Participants in the afternoon of non-competitive matches included athletes, disabled children — in particular those with Down’s syndrome and autism — accompanied by the associations, “Padelmania per il sociale” and “Siamo delfini-impariamo dall’autismo”, (association for people with autism), students from the Magarotto State school for the deaf-mute and the “21 Luglio” Association which assists vulnerable families. “The most important thing is being together and letting the children have fun, because it is important that they feel involved in every activity, especially sport, which is an important vehicle for them”, said Mr Umberto Ugolini, Vice-president of “Siamo Delfini-impariamo dall’autismo”, who accompanied his son Gabriele. “Days like these also help to raise awareness of a still little-known reality”, such as autism.
“It was really cool, I had so much fun”, said Sara Vargetto with her splendid and contagious smile. Sara, a 14-year-old girl from Rome with a disability that often constrains her to a wheelchair, reminded us that sport equals freedom. Today’s event, she explained, was a moment of “incredible inclusion, especially for people with disabilities like me, who played with people [who were] standing. That we have fun in the same way is something really special”.
On Wednesday, 15 November, Andrea and Anderson attended the General Audience with the Holy Father, to whom they explained the meaning of the initiative and its aim of inclusivity and fraternity.
This inclusion was also seen on Thursday, 16 November, when Anderson and Andrea visited the “Magarotto” State Institute for Specialised Education for the Deaf-mute on the outskirts of Rome, where they spoke with the students about issues of inclusion, through sporting passion and held clinics and demonstrations. The following day, along with the “21 Luglio” Association, Andrea and Anderson went to Tor Bella Monaca, also on the outskirts of Rome, for a meeting focused on the empowerment of young women and how sport can be an important tool for social growth among marginalised and vulnerable communities.