Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ancona Soccer Team Meets Pope Benedict

From ANSA:

An Italian soccer club vaunting a Catholic identity and commitment to good works if it sins on the field on Wednesday met Pope Benedict XVI.

AC Ancona players spoke to the pope after Wednesday's regular general audience, handing him a team jersey with his name on it and a red ball.

Red has always been the colour of the third-division side, which has a fan base who make no secret of their leftist sympathies.

Team captain Giovanni Langella told reporters: "It was a great thrill, a special meeting. The thing that joins all of us is faith".

Asked if he was ready to do social work if he got a red card, Langella replied: "I'll do it even if I'm not red-carded. You should always help others".

The club has embraced an ethics code launched by a Catholic sports organisation, the Italian Sporting Centre (CSI), aimed at promoting fair play on the field and funding charitable works in Italy and abroad.

It has been dubbed "the Vatican team" by the world's media but both the club's management and the Holy See has denied such a link.

Ancona was in Serie A as recently as 2004 but was double-demoted to the fourth division after bankruptcy. It has rallied, however, and is currently topping the third division.

The club's new owners, the Schiavoni family, hooked up with the CSI in a bid to make a contribution on and off the field.

The agreement with the CSI, an organisation of lay Catholics, includes a commitment by both club and players to do good works "in remission of sins on the field".

The world's media got hold of the story and dubbed Ancona a "Vatican team" aiming to "get an edge from the Almighty".

Film crews from the BBC and two German TV stations were on hand to record Ancona's Sunday win that kept it co-leader of Serie C-1. They filed reports highlighting that Ancona - from the historically Communist Marche port of the same name - had committed no fouls during the match on its ongoing "mission from God" .

But on Monday the Vatican denied having anything to do with the Ancona-CSI deal - although it looked "benevolently" on such charity and anti-hooligan moves.

Club CEO Giampiero Schiavoni admitted the club had no hotline to the Vatican but, acting through the CSI, would fund social work in Italy and Africa.

Meanwhile Ancona's famously left-wing fans, who regularly wave Che Guevara banners and campaign against neo-Fascists, said they welcomed any "worthwhile social initiatives" but did not expect to be "muzzled" by the club's new Catholic turn.

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