Great sportspeople, great citizens?



Why do we love sport? For hundreds of reasons, I’m sure: because it’s fun, it keeps us in good shape, it allows us to work off excess adrenaline in a healthy way, etc. One reason, however, at least to my mind, it that sport embodies some absolutely positive values, which remain valid (even more so, in fact) when transferred from a sporting to a “civil” context: willingness to sacrifice, teamwork, overcoming personal limits and respect for rules.

A question arises here, however: are we sure that the sportspeople who apply these values “on the field” are also able to adopt them in their private, social and professional lives? It is encouraging to think so (and American culture, which gives great importance to sport during school years, is based precisely on this “equation”), nevertheless, it remains to be seen. In reality, experience shows us that the basic values of sport often remain an end in themselves, in that there is no method for transferring them to social and work contexts.

This “gap” is very often due to the absence of structures capable of combining students’ needs with those of the intense activity that high-level sport requires. It is also a real shame not to be able to benefit from the wealth of experience and skills acquired by accomplished athletes by the end of their careers, or promote the possibility of an authentic osmosis between the two worlds.

The Spse (Professional school for elite sportspeople) in Tenero, Canton Ticino, is an interesting study model that I have recently discovered.

It started in 2001, following a structural and cultural reform by the Swiss Confederation to encourage the growth of sporting activities and favour the possibility for the students to engage in both high level sport and the academic world, with the unquestionable advantage of not having to sacrifice either one. The selection of students, and their on-going enrolment in the institute, requires high standards and re-confirmation at the end of each school year.
This is a fascinating approach which, if implemented with criteria of quality and seriousness, can provide society with citizens accustomed to merit, social interaction and sacrifice, and sport with people who are enlightened and well educated.