Sportsmanship is next to godliness, or so the Vatican thought when it helped launch a soccer league in Rome made up of teams of seminarians. Competition quickly became fierce, and eventually too fierce for the Vatican to be a part of.
ROME – The Clericus Cup, a football tournament founded in 2007 that brings together international teams from Roman Catholic seminaries, has lost one of its most important sponsors: The Vatican.
So why has the Holy See, which used to sponsor the tournament, withdrawn its support? Blame the less than divine tendencies of the beautiful game: players and supporters of the priests-to-be league, it turns out, seem to tackle as hard and behave as raucously as their counterparts in other leagues around the world.
Rome-based daily La Repubblica reports that the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone – the No. 2 two of the Vatican administration and a big fan of the Italian soccer team Juventus – believes the league that he helped found no longer adequately promotes the values of the Church.
The news has broken just as the 2012 tournament gets underway on the sports fields of Centro Sportivo Italiano opposite the Vatican. In a letter to the organisers of the competition, Father Kevin Lixey criticised them for failing to organize training for seminarians about how to educate young people on the sporting values of respect and solidarity.
Lixey also denounced the "ordinary" i.e. "non-educational" nature of the tournament. In particular, he highlights the behavior of certain supporters. The Italian Bishops Conference – perhaps less fastidious or just more aware of the excesses to which football can lead, despite the best of intentions – has instead to decided to maintain its sponsorship.
The competition brings together players who seem to spend a fair amount of time on the football pitch, especially considering their future careers in the priesthood. Players from the South American and African seminaries in particular have repeatedly demonstrated their excellent ball skills, raising the level of this brand new championship.
Since the start of the competition in 2007, the Redemptoris Mater seminary has taken the prize three times, while the Maria Mater Ecclesiae Seminary of the Legion of Christ and the seminarians of the Gregorian Pontifical University have each taken the top spot once. On the other hand, the North American Pontifical College has had to make do with being least blessed team of the championship after losing two finals and two third-fourth place play-offs. However, its supporters haven't let this get them down: indeed, their use of megaphones has led some of the stadium's neighbours to complain about the noise.
Some will use this story to conclude that football is "culturally stronger" than the Catholic Church in contemporary life. Others will note the longstanding positive relationship between the two – especially in Italy where many players have trained at youth clubs run by priests. But it may just be that the Vatican, which is well-practiced in the art of defense, chose to withdraw its sponsorship as a careful way to avoid defeat.
Read more from Le Monde in French.
Photo - Youtube (wisun)