On May 18, if his enthusiasm for sport matches that of his predecessor, newly installed Pope Francis I will present the Clericus Cup to the 2013 winners of the Vatican’s quirky football competition, which is now in its seventh year.
Launched in 2007 by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Camerlengo following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Clericus Cup involves 16 teams made up of young priest-trainees from Rome’s various seminary colleges and counts 355 athletes from 56 countries. Mexico leads the way with 46 players, and Italy and the United States come next with 29 representatives each.
Bertone, a lifelong Juventus supporter, brought his passion for football to the Vatican when he arrived to serve as Secretary of State in September 2006. In a previous post as Archbishop of Genoa, he even provided radio commentary for matches.
The first Clericus Cup kicked off the following February, and in May the Redemptoris Mater seminary team won the inaugural title, beating Pontifical Lateran University 1-0 in the final.
Redemptoris Mater played in the tournament’s first four championship matches, winning three of them, but have not even progressed to the semifinals since their last victory in 2010. The balance of power has since swung in favour of the Pontifical North American College, which lost two finals and two semifinals before lifting the trophy in 2012.
Despite Benedict’s resignation on February 28, the round of matches scheduled for March 10 went ahead as planned, although not without a few hiccups caused by the impending conclave.
The Pontifical Brazilian College—which, as the name suggests, is comprised of Brazilian priests studying in Rome—were particularly hampered by the preparations as their coach was called on to serve as the chauffeur for two Cardinals.
The Brazilians lost 4-1 to Redemptoris Mater and dropped to third place in Group C.
The final matchday before the playoffs is this Sunday, and if the Pontifical Brazilian College stand any chance of winning a first title, they will have to pick up a win against last-place Guanelliani.
Clericus Cup matches are five-a-side affairs usually played outside the Oratoria di San Pietro, with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica looming in the background.
Championship matches, however, are contested at Stadio dei Marmi—a picturesque ground along the Tiber River surrounded by 59 marble statues.
Another of the competition’s quirks is its use of blue cards instead of the usual yellow and red—a blue card signalling that the offending player will spend the next five minutes in the sin bin.
Cardinal Bertone’s plans for Vatican football don’t end with the Clericus Cup. Shortly before the launch of the first season, he told a press conference he envisioned a time when the Vatican fielded a competitive side at the highest level, “with Roma, Inter Milan, Genoa and Sampdoria (via BBC News).”
“If we just take the Brazilian students from our Pontifical universities,” he said, “we could have a magnificent squad."