VATICAN CITY — A real winner knows how to find victory even in losing, Pope Francis told a group of athletes.
Facing defeat with “maturity,” he said, “helps you grow, helps you understand that, in life, not everything is sweet, not everything is about winning.”
In an audience at the Vatican May 31 with a delegation from the Italian Basketball Federation, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the pope highlighted the importance of having the right attitude about losing.
The pope said he had just heard about somebody whose team got second place and yet, the person still kissed the runners-up medal.
“Usually when people come in second, they’ve got a long face,” and there is the temptation to toss aside the medal, he said.
However, “this man kissed the medal and this teaches us that even in defeat there can be victory,” he said, referring to Josep “Pep” Guardiola, the soccer manager of England’s Premier League club Manchester City.
Guardiola is considered one of the greatest managers of all time, holding records for the most consecutive league games won in Spain, Germany and England.
Manchester City finished first in England’s Premier League this season, its seventh championship win, but it lost the European UEFA Champions League final May 29, coming in second behind Chelsea.
Rival fans mocked Guardiola on social media for kissing the runners-up medal as he stepped down from the podium.
Pope Francis, however, praised the gesture, saying, “when a sportsman, a sportswoman knows how to ‘win defeat’ with dignity, with humanity, with a big heart, this is a real award, a true human victory.”
During the audience, the pope encouraged the members of the basketball federation to see they have a “noble” duty to promote healthy play and competition among children and young adults.
“Help young people look up high, to never give up, to discover that life is a journey made up of losses and victories, but that the important thing is to never lose the desire to ‘be in the game,’“ he said.
“Help them to understand that when in life ‘you don’t make the basket,’ you have not lost for good. You can always get back on the court, you can still be a team with the others and you can take another shot,” the pope said.