Pope & glory: Vatican City launches official track team for international competition
The Holy See has regularly used sport as a way to spread the message of peace and solidarity, and has put together a team of around 60 runners from the working population of Vatican City.
The team, which features athletes with daily jobs of priests, nuns, Swiss Guards and pharmacists, even includes a 62-year-old professor from the Vatican Apostolic Library.
The team has been accepted as part of the Italian track association and hopes to gain membership of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The goal is for the Vatican to eventually compete in international competition, including the Mediterranean Games and the Small States of Europe, a competition that permits entries from states with populations of fewer than 1 million people.
And the head of the Vatican culture ministry's sports department - and team president - Monsignor Melchor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, said he has goals beyond even that.
"The dream that we have often had is to see the Holy See flag among the delegations at the opening of the Olympic Games," he mused enthusiastically, according to AP.
"We might even podium."
CONI president Giovanni Malago said he welcomed the inception of the Vatican track team, but jokingly warned them not to take medals from the main Italian team, saying "Just don't get too big!"
The Vatican track team adds to the state's growing sports presence, with it launching unofficial soccer and cricket teams, the latter touring Britain to forge relations with the Anglican Church in England.
But the track team will be the first to have legal status as an official team in Vatican City with the ability to compete on the national and international stage as part of the Italian sporting umbrella.Also on rt.com Pope Francis tests basketball skills on St. Peter’s with Harlem Globetrotters
Despite that, team member and Vatican pharmacist Michela Ciprietti says the aim of the team isn't specifically competitive, but to "promote culture and running and launch the message of solidarity and the fight against racism and violence of all types."
The Vatican also plans to launch a similarly-organized team for disabled athletes, affiliated to the Italian Paralympic Committee.
The track team's first appearance in competition will take place during "La Corsa di Miguel," a 10-kilometer race in Rome run in honor of an Argentine distance runner who disappeared during the "Dirty War" of the country.
The race is of particular significance to Pope Francis, who was a young Jesuit superior during the military crackdown on left-leaning dissidents in the region.
The new track team will hope to use the event to get into the winning habit as early as possible.