Richard Lapchick, a UCF eminent scholar and endowed chair known internationally as the “racial conscience of sport,” was among the 150 global delegates invited to join Pope Francis last week for the Sport at the Service of Humanity Conference.

According to the Vatican, “the goal of the conference is to create a place where thought leaders from different religious faiths, sports, business, academia and media can discuss how faith and sport can work together to better serve humanity.”

Pope Francis led the first session of the three-day conference, held Oct. 5 to 7. All of the attendees were invited by The Vatican.

Pope Francis “has stood for global issues that are incredibly important to me, including preventing human trafficking and fostering diversity and inclusion,” Lapchick said.

He compared the pope’s influence on social justice to that of Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela.

“When they talk about social justice issues, their platform is larger than anyone else’s,” Lapchick said.

Lapchick is director of UCF’s DeVos Business Management Program and director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. He also is president of the National Consortium of Academics and Sport.

Lapchick was the American leader of the international campaign to boycott South Africa in sport for more than 20 years. He was among 200 guests specially invited to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in May 1994. He attended the funeral service for President Mandela in December 2013.

“I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to a lot of events – I don’t think there’s any place other than Nelson Mandela’s inauguration that I wanted to be at as much as I want to be a part of Pope Francis’ conference,” Lapchick said.  Other delegates include United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, Special Olympics Chair Timothy Shriver, International Paralympic Committee President Sir Philip Craven and leaders from many professional sports leagues and the NCAA.

The DeVos Sport Business Management Program, part of UCF’s College of Business Administration, is a landmark program that focuses on the business skills necessary for graduates to conduct a successful career in the rapidly changing and dynamic sports industry. In following with Lapchick’s tradition of human rights activism, the curriculum includes courses with an emphasis on diversity, leadership, community service, sport and social issues and ethics. In 2015, SportBusiness International named the program one of the top two graduate sport business management programs in the world.

In December 2006, Lapchick, his wife, his daughter and a group of DeVos students formed the Hope for Stanley Alliance, which organized groups of student­-athletes and sports management students to go to New Orleans to assist with the reconstruction efforts in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Since 2006, Hope for Stanley members have spent 48 weeks in the city and worked on more than 125 homes. Lapchick was named an honorary citizen by the New Orleans City Council in October 2007.

Along with Arthur Ashe and Nelson Mandela, he was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame of the Commonwealth Nations in 1999 in the category of “Humanitarian.” He joined Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe and Wilma Rudolph in the Sport in Society Hall of Fame in 2004. He was inducted into the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and into the Multi­Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

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