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Sally Axworthy

Ambassador to the Holy See

Part of UK in Holy See

18th September 2017 Holy See

Sport at the Holy See

HM Ambassador Sally Axworthy at the start of the half marathon for peace, 17 September 2017

On Sunday, I took part in the Via Pacis marathon, a 21km or 5km run for peace around Rome (I did the 5K option!) taking in not just churches but also a mosque and a synagogue, and organised jointly by the Rome city council, thePontifical Council for Culture, Muslim and Jewish representatives.

Last year, the Vatican explained its interest in sport when they held a global conference ‘Sport at the Service of Humanity’.  Faith, they said, is the belief that we exist and function for a purpose; and that we can live in a way that enhances not only our lives, but also the lives of those around us. Sport imposes rules for a fair contest, equal opportunities for all, entertainment and enjoyment, and provides participants with the opportunity to stretch their physical and mental limits, share common values and experiences. Together faith and sport provide massive power for good.

My own interest in sport developed rather late. At school I was always the last to be chosen for teams, the child with apparently no hand-eye coordination. At university, after a very brief experience as a rower, I found my niche coxing rather than doing the hard work of rowing itself. I am not sure I was brilliant at it. A memorable moment was when I sank the boat.  In my 40s I started regular sport – first swimming and then running. I realised that it is OK to do both slowly, and that even running slowly makes you fit(ter). Last year I tried surfing, but after only about 0.5 seconds standing up in a 2-hour lesson, I think I might leave that to others with better balance and more tolerance of the freezing Cornish sea.

My own experience resonates with the encouragement that now exists for the un-sporty to take up sport. In the UK Parkrun organises free 5km runs every Saturday morning in parks around the country – great opportunities for the speedy and not-so-speedy to run together in lovely places. This Girl Can is Sport England’s campaign celebrating active women ‘who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets.’

Was sport a power for good in Rome yesterday? It was. Running with people of different faiths and nationalities, we had a shared sense of achievement and of joy at living in the beautiful city of Rome.

Sport is one of the ways the Vatican builds ecumenical and inter-religious bonds. The St Peter’s Cricket Team regularly tours playing teams of other faiths, including the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI.  The two teams  will be playing in Rome in October.

I’m fully behind the Vatican’s sport for peace campaign.  And I’ll be carrying on with my personal non-contribution to the physical achievements of the human race.

About Sally Axworthy

Sally is currently British Ambassador to the Holy See. She took up her position in Rome in September 2016, after 5 years at the Foreign Office as Head of Somalia…

Sally is currently British Ambassador to the Holy See. She took up her position in Rome in September 2016, after 5 years at the Foreign Office as Head of Somalia Unit (2011-2013), and then as Joint Head of North Africa Department (2013-2016). She spent most of that time on the UK initiative to help Somalia emerge from civil war; and to establish a Government of National Unity in Libya.

Sally joined the FCO in 1986. Her career has taken her to Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and India. From 2001-2006 she worked at a government regional office in south west England on providing services to vulnerable adults.

Sally is married to Michael, an academic specialising in Iran, and they have four children. When in the UK, they live in Cornwall where Sally enjoys walking and running (very slowly) in the rain and the fog.