Vatican launches track team of Swiss guards, nuns to compete in international competitions

The Olympic Games could eventually have the Holy See flag flying among its delegations after the Vatican announced Thursday the creation of an official track team.

The Vatican’s Athletics – the first accredited track team from the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church – will include about 60 Holy See runners of Swiss Guards, priests, nuns, pharmacists and even a 62-year-old professor who works in the Vatican’s Apostolic Library.

The Vatican said it had signed an agreement with the Italian Olympic Committee with the aim of participating in international competitions including the Games of Small States of Europe – open to states with fewer than one million people – the Mediterranean games and even the Olympic 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 Toco y Alameda, team president and the head of the Vatican’s sports department in the culture ministry.

But he said that the Olympics 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.

From left, CONI Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago', Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Melichor Jose' Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, right, pose for photos at the end of a press conference, at the Vatican.

From left, CONI Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago’, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Melichor Jose’ Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, right, pose for photos at the end of a press conference, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Michela Ciprietti, a Vatican pharmacist on the team, told a Vatican press conference that the team’s aim isn’t only competing, but to “promote culture and running and launch the message of solidarity and the fight against racism and violence of all types.”

The Vatican said it also hopes to sign similar agreements with the Italian Paralympic Committee.

Giovanni Malago, president of CONI (the Italian National Olympic Committee) welcomes the birth of the Vatican team – though jokingly warned that they might cost Italy a medal in the future.

“Just don’t get too big,” he said at the team’s 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 Games in 2016.

In recent years, the Vatican has fielded unofficial soccer teams and a cricket team in efforts to forge relations with the Anglican church through annual tours in Britain. However, the track team is the first one to have legal status in Vatican City and accreditation to compete in nationally and internationally sanctioned events.

The new team’s first official outing is the Jan. 20 “La Corsa di Miguel” (Miguel’s Race), a 10k race in Rome honoring Miguel Sanchez, an Argentine distance runner who was one of the thousands of young people who “disappeared” during the country’s Dirty War.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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