Salt + Light Media Home
Salt + Light Media Home

Vatican City at a World Cup?

Matthew Neugebauer

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Photo by Kendal on Unsplash
It’s November 2022, which naturally means the FIFA World Cup is just around the corner. (It isn’t natural at all: it’s just that it’s in Qatar). Here at Salt + Light Media’s head office in Toronto, our eyes are on Canada's return to the world's biggest sports tournament, and not just because Italy failed to make the tournament after a bitter upset loss to North Macedonia. (Ouch? Too soon?)
Of course, we’re also hard at work following the Apostolic Journeys, speeches, addresses and overall leadership of Pope Francis from the Holy See. Which makes for a fun connection: this past Friday, Canada played a World Cup warm-up match against Bahrain. The game had to be held at Khalifa Sports City Stadium, likely because the larger Bahrain National Stadium was unavailable due to, you guessed it, the full-stadium Mass celebrated by the pope less than a week earlier!
All of this gets us wondering: does the Vatican have a soccer team? And could they ever play in a World Cup?
Vatican City doesn't just have one "representative” team, they have two: a men’s squad that began in 1985, and a women’s team–reflecting the Holy Father’s commitment to improving the leadership profile of both genders in the Church–that first kicked off in 2019. The sides are strictly amateur, comprised of Vatican employees and family members, drawn from the lay civilian population of the microstate in the middle of Italy’s capital city. Members of the Papal Swiss Guard also chip in. They host games at the Campo Pio IX, a small stadium in Rome-proper, just outside the Vatican walls.
Does this mean we could see a “Vatican City National Team” march out in their distinctive yellow for a World Cup match, or at least for European qualifiers? Alas, that’s highly unlikely: even though the Holy See is a globally recognized sovereign state, with membership at the UN and other international bodies, Vatican City doesn’t hold membership in FIFA, the world’s governing body, or in UEFA, the sport's governing body for Europe.
But there are very good reasons for that: the national teams, and the Vatican Amateur Sports Association (or ASA) that administer them, seek to stay above the political and economic fray that often dominates such high-end competitions. Domenico Ruggiero, President of the Vatican ASA, said in 2014 that the association and its teams exist to promote “the important message of friendship and love [that] is demonstrated by the sport — the real sport, not the business that is in football these days.”
The Vatican's national teams' ethos gets at the heart of the word “amateur”: someone who does something for love, for charity. They often play exhibition games, called “friendlies,” that promote peace and goodwill throughout the world, such as a match with Palestine in 2011 at Al-Khader Stadium near Bethlehem and multiple games with teams representing hospitals in Rome. Their latest friendly was in November, 2021 against representatives of the World Roma Federation. For that game, the real opponent was racism and discrimination, which Romani people (inaccurately called "gypsies") face throughout much of Europe. The Vatican ASA and the World Roma Federation used the match to highlight the experience of Romani people, and ticket proceeds went to an initiative by the Diocese of Rome to ease local Romani kids into soccer academies in the city.
And even though they’re all amateur athletes, that doesn’t mean they can’t look stylish on the pitch. Check out their excellent new jersey here, which you can buy from the Vatican Museum gift shop. A portion of the jersey’s sales support the Pope’s and the Vatican ASA’s many charitable activities.
So even though they won’t be competing for a World Cup any time soon, the Vatican City National Teams are champions in our books!

Related Articles:


Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Copyright © 2024 Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Registered Charity # 88523 6000 RR0001