By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) – The world of professional sports has become overly focused on winning and profits and has lost its focus on forming children into healthy adults, said José Mourinho, a star soccer coach.
The head coach of the A.S Roma soccer team, who has also coached Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United among other teams, spoke with Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education, at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University March 31.
The conversation, moderated by Andrea Mondi, director of the Vatican newspaper, was one of three meetings leading up to World Youth Day 2023, which will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 1-6.
The goal of sport, determined by team owners and sports marketing, “has become very clear: to win,” said Mourinho.
“Unfortunately, sport today is a different world than what we want for our children,” he said. Sport has become “cruel, because there is no space for the weakest or to enjoy yourself.”
Mourinho said that because of its hyper-competitive nature, sport has lost its ability to instill in children a healthy sense of winning and losing, which he called “fundamental” in their growth.
In the conversation, the coach reflected on the teachers that influenced him, saying that his philosophy teacher was the one who made the most impact on him and taught him that as a coach he was not “training soccer players, but people who play soccer.”
Mourinho also recalled his own experience as a teacher working with mentally disabled children after he finished university.
“I didn’t feel capable, I learned my limits,” he said, “but when I left everyone considered me an excellent teacher because I was passionate” about the job.
Cardinal Tolentino said that sport “is a school of life, and the academic world must consider it an example of concentration and a healthy sense of competition.”
Sport, he said, teaches young people that “it is not important who runs or plays, but to find happiness running and playing.” He said athletic competitions must be a space for “young people, who are often kept from taking hold (of their lives), to realize their dreams.”
The cardinal noted that the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon “makes us think: What does it mean to be a young person today? What are the struggles young people are facing today?”
“Today young people are forced to remain young people until late in life because the labor market does not offer stability,” he said. “They cannot move out of their parents’ house, they cannot plan ahead for their future, have a family, get married or think about having kids.”
Cardinal Tolentino said that today “young people bear most of the burden” in society. “Even if they are highly educated, they do not find the stability they are looking for.”
Mourinho noted that in this context, a strong relationship between young people and the elderly is essential.
“There is a saying that the world belongs to the young,” he said. “I disagree, the world belongs to everyone. Young people need to grow with the experience of us older people and we must learn from their energy.”
The 60-year-old coach praised Pope Francis’ efforts to promote intergenerational relationships.
The pope “is one of us,” said Mourinho. “He is like a grandfather.”