Pope challenges European soccer stars to promote noble virtues

Pope Benedict XVI is urging those participating in soccer's 2012 European Championship to promote "noble human values" during the tournament which begins on June 8.

"I encourage all those involved to work to ensure that this event is experienced as an expression of the most noble human virtues and actions, in a spirit of peace and genuine joy," the Pope said in a message to the President of the Polish Bishops Conference, Archbishop Józef Michalik.

The month-long competition will take place in Poland and the Ukraine June 8 to July 1. It features the top 16 national sides in Europe, including the Pope's motherland of Germany and his adoptive nation of Italy. The tournament begins with an opening match in the Polish capital of Warsaw between the host nation and Greece, the 2004 champions.

The Pope's comments come amidst fears that the tournament could be dogged by racist abuse aimed at black soccer players.

The governing body of European football confirmed June 8 that the black members of the Dutch national team had been subjected to "isolated incidents of racist chanting" from Polish fans during the open training session in Krakow.

"Team sports such as football are an important way to educate people to respect one another, including their adversaries, to show a spirit of personal sacrifice for the good of the entire group, and to respect the gifts of each member of the team," the Pope said in his message.

He also reflected on how soccer can help "overcome the logic of individualism and selfishness which often characterize human dealings, and so leave space for the logic of fraternity and love … ."

The Pope recalled that this was very much the opinion of his soccer-loving Polish predecessor Blessed John Paul II, who believed that "the potentialities of sport make it an important instrument for the overall development of the person" and a "useful factor" in the "construction of a more human society."

This was because, said Pope John Paul, the sense of "brotherhood, magnanimity, honesty and respect for the body" promoted by team sports helps build a civil society where 'competition replaces antagonism, where agreement replaces conflict and loyal confrontation replaces rancorous opposition."


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