The Vatican has launched an official track team – including Swiss Guards – with the aim of competing in international competitions, as part of an agreement signed with the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI).
About 60 Holy See runners – Swiss Guards, priests, nuns, pharmacists and even a 62-year-old professor who works in the Vatican’s Apostolic Library – are the first accredited members of Vatican Athletics. It’s the latest iteration of the Holy See’s long-standing promotion of sport as an instrument of dialogue, peace and solidarity.
Because of the agreement with CONI, the team is now a part of the Italian track association and is looking to join the International Association of Athletics Federations. It is hoping to compete in international competitions, including the Games of the Small States of Europeexternal link – open to states with fewer than one million people – and the Mediterranean Gamesexternal link.
“The dream that we have often had is to see the Holy See flag among the delegations at the opening of the Olympic Games,” said Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca y Alameda, team president and the head of the Vatican’s sports department in the culture ministry.
But he said that was neither a short-term nor medium-term goal, and that for now the Vatican was looking to participate in competitions that had cultural or symbolic value.
“We might even podium,” he reckoned.
In recent years, the Vatican has fielded unofficial football teams and a cricket team that has helped forge relations with the Anglican church through annual tours in Britain.
Football in the Vaticanexternal link goes back to 1521, but the Vatican squad, which also features several Swiss Guards, is one of the few sovereign states whose team is not a member of FIFA, world football’s Zurich-based governing body.
The track team, however, is the first one to have a legal status in Vatican City and to be an official part of the Italian sporting umbrella, able to compete in nationally and internationally sanctioned events and take advantage of the Italian national coaching, scientific and medical resources.
While Pope John Paul II was known for his athleticism – he was an avid skier – Pope Francis is more of a fan, a long-time supporter of his beloved San Lorenzo football team in Argentina.
Vatican Athletics’ first official outing is “Corsa di Miguelexternal link” (Miguel’s Race), a ten-kilometre race in Rome on January 20 honouring Miguel Sánchez, an Argentine distance runner who was one of the thousands of young people who “disappeared” during the country’s Dirty Warexternal link.