Vat­i­can launches track team of Swiss Guards, nuns

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LOCAL - By Ni­cole Win­field

VAT­I­CAN CITY — The Vat­i­can launched an of­fi­cial track team Thurs­day 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 long­stand­ing 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 Europe — open to states with fewer than 1 mil­lion peo­ple — and the Mediter­ranean Games.

“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 Jose Sanchez 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 noted.

Vat­i­can phar­ma­cist-run­ner Michela Ci­pri­etti told a Vat­i­can press con­fer­ence the aim of the team isn’t ex­clu­sively com­pet­i­tive, but rather to “pro­mote cul­ture and run­ning and launch the mes­sage of sol­i­dar­ity and the fight against racism and vi­o­lence of all types.”

Team mem­bers wear­ing match­ing navy warm-up suits bear­ing the Holy See’s crossed keys seal at­tended the launch. Also on hand were two honorary mem­bers of the team, mi­grants who don’t work for the Vat­i­can but are train­ing and com­pet­ing with the team, as well as a hand­ful of dis­abled ath­letes. The Vat­i­can aims to sign sim­i­lar agree­ments with the Italian Par­a­lympic com­mit­tee.

CONI pres­i­dent Gio­vanni Malago wel­comed the birth of the Vat­i­can team, even though he ac­knowl­edged that it might one day deprive Italy of a medal.

“Just don’t get too big,” he told Vat­i­can of­fi­cials at the launch, re­call­ing how an ath­lete from an­other tiny coun­try — Ma­jlinda Kel­mendi — won Kosovo’s first Olympic medal when she de­feated Italian ri­val Odette Gi­uf­frida in the fi­nal of the women’s 52-kilo­gram judo event at the Rio de Janeiro Games.

In re­cent years, the Vat­i­can has fielded un­of­fi­cial soc­cer teams and a cricket team that has helped forge re­la­tions with the Angli­can church through an­nual tours in Bri­tain. 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.

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