The beautiful game is a universal language. It is the topic of every conversation, whether it is about an upcoming match, the World Cup, or the scandals that sometimes overshadow football. The sport can be linked to politics; simply mention Berlusconi and reams could be written on the subject, history; think back to British occupied Ireland when the sport was considered to be a “garrison game” and we could dedicate a number of chapters to it.
And religion. Can the sport be linked to that spiritual subject? The answer is inevitbaly yes as we will see from this article.
Since 2006, seminarians from around the world have been aiming for not so heavenly goals on soccer pitches, with the papal blessing, in the the shadows of St Peter’s Basilica.
Just as the English started playing football as we know it today, the seeds for this tournament were planted by an English seminarian in 2003 when he started up an eight team friendly calling it the Rome Cup. However, the idea was not to win the Vatican’s approval until four years later. It was then Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, took up on the initiative. He doubled the number of teams and modelled the tournament after the World Cup, adding group play and a knockout round and baptised it with the name the Clericus Cup.
The annual tournament is organised during the Lenten season by the Centro Sportive Italiano League. According to one of its organisers, the goal of the league is to “reinvigorate the tradition of sport in the Christian Community”. The Vatican believes that sport is a human right, and through the Clerical Cup, it aims to raise awareness among current and future leaders of parishes of the educational and pastoral importance of the beautiful game. The Vatican has even announced its support for women’s teams in a number of countries on numerous occasions. Yet, for some unknown reason, we still have to see nuns involved in the sport.
The league boasts a few technical differences. Firstly, there is no limit to age or weight, but the pool of players is restricted to those who are able to train and play in the realm of the pontificial universities of Rome. Another interesting difference is there are no away games as Rome is considered to be home for all!
Yet, perhaps where the Clericus Cup differs most is in its blue card, dubbed the “sin bin”, that is shown to those players who demonstrate unsportsmanlike play. The offenders are sent to the bench, the players’ purgatory, for five minutes to contemplate their sin and repent before returning to the game.
The matches are attended by flag waving priests attired in a variety of costumes. Despite being holy men, they resemble football fans from around the world in that they go equally wild while cheering their teams on. Among some of the interesting team names are the African Lions, and the Holy Martyrs, the latter with a history of trials and tribulations.
And to finish off, there is only one captain for all the competing teams, namely Pope Francis. According to an organiser; “The job of a captian is to lead the team, to be a point of reference during the difficult moments, to be a symbol, and who better embodies this in the great playing field of the world than Pope Francis”