Better figure could not have been expected. It is a unanimous chorus that rises from the sports world to greet the new Minister for Sport and Youth. From CONI to Sport and Health S.p.A., passing through the Italian Paralympic Committee, the Presidents of Federations, Associated Sports Disciplines and Sports Promotion Bodies, the top executives of a sector that produces 3.6 percent of GDP (2019 figure emerged from the first Sport System Observatory, a document produced by the Banca Ifis Studies Office), but which in the past two years has suffered tremendously from the crisis exacerbated by the negative effects of the COVID, applauded Premier Giorgia Meloni’s decision to entrust Andrea Abodi with the leadership of a department that is fundamental to implementing the new government’s policies. The confidence of the world of top and grassroots sports in the minister is very high. This is also evidenced by the first statements made by two prominent figures on the national sports scene such as Giovanni Malagò and Vito Cozzoli. If the President of the Italian National Olympic Committee stated that the sport “needed a figure of undeniable ability, depth and experience, capable of decoding the needs of the movement with the sensitivity of someone who knows the dynamics that govern it. Speaking the same language is a fundamental premise for dealing with the emergencies that plague the system, making it a strong point in the country’s development policies. “The President of Sport and Health S.p.A. stressed that “it is excellent news that sport can sit in the Council of Ministers with the skills and experience of a man who grew up in this world.”
Sixty-two years old, Roman, with a degree in economics from LUISS and a specialization in industrial sports management and marketing business development, Abodi is a technical minister who unites. A figure respected by all, as well as a manager who in his professional career has always put his skills, knowledge, background and human and moral qualities at the service of the sports sector. In recent weeks, before the Premier announced to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, the list of the members of her government, Abodi’s name had been juxtaposed with the Foundation for the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics. For public opinion, but not only, the ideal candidate seemed to be the President of the Istituto per il Credito Sportivo, the social bank for the development of sports and culture. Perhaps, even IOC President Thomas Bach hoped in his heart that the new CEO of the Foundation, the man who would have to provide the right driving force for the Winter Olympics machine, would be the No. 1 from Via Giambattista Vico. And instead, last October 22, with his swearing in before the Head of State, Andrea Abodi assumed his duties as Minister of Sport. A fundamental and delicate role, given and considering the historical moment that Italy and the sports sector are experiencing.
The challenges and issues to be addressed by Minister Abodi to revitalize the sector have clear names. The development of grassroots sports activity, the improvement of the related infrastructure and the enlargement of the number of practitioners are topics that have already been put on the agenda. Likewise, as emerged at the end of the meeting the minister had with the President and CEO of Sport and Health S.p.A., Vito Cozzoli, the serious emergency of facilities, issues related to sports associationism, and the relationship between sports, schools and health will also be put on the agenda and treated with extreme delicacy and urgency. The priorities, in short, have already been identified also because the data photograph an Italy that is less and less sporty. According to the CONI – ISTAT report, in 2020, our country, due to the health emergency and the restrictive policies of previous Governments towards the sector, lost almost two million card-carrying members and more than 5,000 associations. The negative numbers, however, do not fully highlight the seriousness of the situation, both economically and socially. The future scenario is far from rosy. Growing up without sports means facing negative physical, mental, social and behavioral consequences and increased per capita public spending. In the coming years, Italy could see a surge in cases of overweight or obese young people, but also in diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, that are extremely linked to leading a sedentary lifestyle. No less relevant from the point of view of individual growth is the formative and educational role of sports. Those who practice a sports discipline acquire and understand the true values of life and are less likely to become protagonists of deviant episodes. If sport is a gymnasium of life, amateur sports associations and clubs, especially those in the suburbs, should be seen as outposts of legality and social cohesion. Losing them would mean having fewer places of aggregation or psychophysical well-being, fewer pillars of the educating community, but also fewer structures that rise as symbols of the territory or a community.
Minister Abodi, as CONI President Giovanni Malagò reminded us, speaks the same language as the key players on the sports scene. And this is undoubtedly an added value. To understand how Abodi understands sport, it is sufficient to quote a quote he gave at the final conference of the “Paths of Sport” project, an initiative promoted by OPES, the Sports Promotion Body recognized by CONI and CIP, and financed by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers – Department for Sport. On that occasion, which took place eight days before he was sworn in before the President of the Republic, Abodi defined sport as “social immune defense.” A profound definition that extols the function of any form of physical activity, which at the same time describes its magnificent role within a community and simply explains how sport can be a system capable of raising a natural shield before the aggressions of external agents. Aspects, to put it mildly, not properly understood by the Governments that have taken turns in recent years.
The “social immune defense” will need boosters, injections that will make the cells of the system stronger, more resilient and less fragile. “We need to feed the light that young people have in their eyes with certainties, with the attitude of listening and with the ability to turn our action, our service and our tools into solutions for doing sports anywhere and in any circumstance, understanding the value not only physical and social but also moral value of sport,” the then President of the Istituto per il Credito Sportivo had added during his speech inside the Aula Magna of the “Giulio Onesti” Olympic Preparation Center in Rome. The aspect on which I can commit myself, and we all must, is to work also on intangible infrastructure, on moral infrastructure. Because without this contribution, even sports venues are in danger of no longer being social environments. We risk sedentariness. There is an important indicator given to us by the World Health Organization: we are the fourth most sedentary country. 94.5 percent of 11- to 15-year-olds do not participate in sports in a systematic way. This is an incredible figure on which we, as the Sports Credit Institute, must also commit ourselves, who have lived and worked to improve sports venues. Without people, without sociality, without sports culture, sports venues become deserts. And we have to counter the risk of social desertification.”
Minister Abodi, as an experienced sports manager, knows that the most striking results cannot be achieved alone. There is a need for the participation and involvement of all players. The key word is that “communiter” found at the close of the Olympic motto. The adverb “together” has impressive specific weight. “It is an indispensable factor,” Minister Abodi added at the closing conference of the OPES project, “the communion of purpose, a common agenda in complementarity, difference and respect for roles, and above all the awareness that the institutions are at the service of the nation, the citizens and the community. We must prepare to recover not only what has been lost, but that what has never been achieved can be won, namely the broadening of the sports base that is the prerequisite for Olympic medals and top successes. To do that, all we need to do is to work, and that is no small thing, on the promotion of sports, of schools, on the possibility also in cities, in open-air facilities, to practice sports in new, unconventional ways. That will be a great goal to be pursued by each of us, considering the role we hold.”
Words and program of a forward-looking executive. The best Minister for Sport and Youth that Premier Giorgia Meloni could have chosen.