The Italian paradox between athletics & academics

Monday, April 1, 2019

When we talk about playing competitive sports and study in Italy, about student-athletes, it is always a very delicate topic, an almost impossible coexistence, a typical Italian paradox.

We want to introduce the topic starting from an article on and deal with a theme which is often considered an issue, in Italy. The MIUR (Italian Ministry of Education and Research) in collaboration with Coni (Italian National Olympic Committee) coordinates an experimental project  for student-athletes but this often generates conflicts with the school system. This is the big paradox. Theory and practice do not coincide. Sport is often considered as an obstacle to academic achievement and the time spent for practicing undermining study hours.

Some teachers and professors do not consider sport activity essential for the individual growth and development, they discourage student-athletes and undermine the coexistence of scholastic and athletic dedication. 

In this context, students who also practice some sports at a good level have a tough time.

All this is absurd because in Italy sport constitutes 2% of the gross domestic product; sport teaches, builds, develops people before athletes, it transmits virtues like respect, integrity, socialization and integration. Inhibiting and discouraging student-athletes means limiting the dreams of young people who decided to pursue both sport and study with the same dedication.

Paradox is the word that we use to describe this situation: it often involves young women and men representing Italy in National teams. Quite the opposite of what happens in the US, where student-athletes are protected (this doesn't mean they are facilitated!), sport and study have the same weight and both careers are supported through specific programs.

Finally, we want to report the numbers of the specific program proposed by MIUR. During 2017-2018 school year 1.309 student-athletes were involved (+191% from 2016-2017), they were enrolled in in 356 schools in 18 regions, especially in Liceo Scientifico high schools (44% of the participating schools), technical institutes (21%), sport high schools (18%) and professional institutes (3%).

Student-athletes are followed by 596 academic advisors and 721 athletic advisors. even though the number of academic and athletic advisors should be equal. These student-athletes are involved in more then 70 sports. The most popular sports are: soccer (22%), water sports (14%), track and field and basket (8% both). Regions with the highest number of schools involved in the ministry program are Lombardia (22%), Lazio (12%), Piemonte and Emilia Romagna (10%).

Numbers are growing but they are still too low.