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1° SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
Sport et Média par Fabrizio Maffei

The relationship between sport and the media today is " particularly risky'' and prone to conflict. It is marked by a strong sense of malaise which almost always breaks out into a kind of " war " between the sports industry and the news industry, both of which are firmly set on defending their own, putative, autonomy.

The reason for this conflict between sport and the media is that the sports world has its own structures, rules, powers, controlling bodies and its own courts, and very often the news media demand entry into that world, to become familiar with it and to talk about it. What is missing is a healthy relationship of cooperation between them, beyond the traditional technical information that sport needs, and which the media duly supply.

I am not trying to hide behind a corporation attitude. For quite some time I have taken a critical stance, recognizing " our " and " my "   faults which include reporting only about the wrongdoings in the world of sport, ignoring the good things that are being done, and the positive stories and examples which sport knows how to offer and continues to do so. These positive things are certainly less newsworthy, and the public is less interested in them because it is always far too keen on scandals and gossip, exclusively attracted by pushing the process of spectacularization to the extreme.

The mass media interest in sport is rooted in the huge power it continues to exert on the public (even though i cannot say how much longer it will be able to keep it up! ). This power is called " popular passion ", a phenomenon which has a crucial influence on the circulation figures of magazines and newspapers. attracting press advertisements, determining the success of a broadcast and - through audience ratings - attracting the interest of radio and TV commercial advertisers.

Without venturing into areas that have nothing to do strictly with my responsibilities, such as the newspaper industry - even though even there the situation is not very different from my own industry - I would like to draw your attention to something with which I am more qualified to deal: soccer and television. I think that the present scenario in this respect is alarming, to say the least! First of all, we have to admit that in recent years the " soccer system " has found a way to earn the maximum possible financial resources by selling the " soccer product " in thousands of small " packages ". And all this has been done in defiance of the Italians' passion for the sport which, until just recently, used to be considered the most beautiful game in the world.

This marketing tactic - we are told by the experts - has produced a wide range of television offerings that are very difficult for the public to assimilate, creating incredible confusion with so many matches being played, in addition to " overdosing " on midweek matches (Series B matches, as well as European tournaments) that cram the television schedule full, seven days a week.

There is far too much soccer! And it is no longer a big deal to buy the broadcasting rights for the " first screening " of the Sunday Series A matches for EUR 61 million a year. People are now getting bored with it. The market has ignored its most elementary rules: it has flooded and oversupplied the market, leading to public " indigestion ".

And the quality of the entertainment is becoming increasingly tawdry, except when the usual well-established clubs continue to fight it out with each other - the clubs that have no financial problems. that can afford to invest huge fortunes, because they are the property of great multinationals.

I go along with those who criticize people that keep harking back too much to the past, because we have to move forward. But there are times when the past can offer extraordinary examples. Years ago in Italy, many of us used to follow a fixed Sunday ritual with great punctually. It began with Sunday morning Mass, followed by the rush to the nearest pastry shop (there is always one near every church). then quickly back home for the Sunday family lunch, and immediately afterwards a walk to the football stadium to see the game, after which we would go rush back home to watch " 90th Minute " programme presented by Paolo Valenti, who very adroitly avoided ever giving away the results of the game of which excerpts (usually the second half) were broadcast immediately after his legendary programme. Yes. those were certainly the days in which there were still professionals around who knew how to convey not only the thrills of sport, but also its values, and who used the media with sound common sense according to clear-cut rules and with proper respect for a very " powerful " instrument: the microphone. There was still a taste for entertainment. Sport was practised above all as a game. without neglecting its educational side. But today we have given way to the rules of the market, and we are culpably ignoring the educational and informational role of our media.

Sport today has certainly become richer (not only soccer, but other disciplines are also discovering new ways of making big money that was unthinkable even a few years ago, thanks to television and sponsorships) - richer in terms of money, that is. but significantly poorer in terms of values! I will not go into the daily reports of the negative sides of soccer, which still remains Italy's most popular sport, even though the TV audience ratings show that other disciplines broadcast at the last Olympic Games are surprisingly and encouragingly gaining in popularity with viewers; but I would like to speak about the responsibility that I feel I can attribute to the news, and particularly the people running the news industry: the publishers. those responsible for radio and television broadcasts, and the press.

Today, society is increasingly losing the sense of human values.

The dash for success seems to be the only way of demonstrating a life lived with commitment. Sport. too, as the mirror of the reality in which we live, offers examples that are not always positive. The myth of wealth has permeated through to every area of human activity, causing people to lose the perception of what is right and what is wrong.

Everything now goes, in the name of success. Which means wealth.

What is the role of the media in all this? They report, inform, and denounce, but they certainly do not educate! The quality of the programmes shown on television is declining all the time. Judging from my own experience I can safely say that the expectations of the viewing public are also very low, and tend to be turned off by educational programmes, mostly preferring programmes with very little cultural content such as reality shows or wrestling matches- the epitome of phoney sports- to programmes that debate issues similar to those we are discussing at this seminar.

Let me conclude by harking back, for a moment, to the little soccer pitches we used to have in the parish 'oratory' clubs, where the parish priest organised matches that went on and on interminably, until dusk fell, often ending with no winners and no losers. Those parish clubs produced " little champions ". Those experiences helped us to mature, because it enabled us to acquire real life values that included respect for others, knowing how to win fairly and without pushing victory to extremes and to accept defeat graciously. And I would also like to make a very personal request to the Church: give us again our parish sport clubs! Give us again parish priests who, with referee's whistle and an eye for discipline, are not afraid of getting their shoes dirty on the pitch in order to be with the youth of their parish. Priest who are capable of giving them formation in virtues and discipline through games and sport.

I am certain that the value of sport is handed on through such healthy, genuine relations as these, even if they may be considered by some to be somewhat out of fashion today.