Praying for a win – the Vatican City at World Cup 2014?

Posted on September 19, 2010


As the Pope ends his tour of England and Scotland Luke James asks whether we might see a Vatican international team in the future?

Could the Vatican feature in World Cup 2014 in the City of God?

It may be the smallest nation state on earth but the fact remains that theoretically the Vatican City have more of a right to play international football than Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Their head of state, the Pope, is one of the most powerful people on earth and unlike any of the four nations that currently make up the United Kingdom, the city state is a full member of the United Nations – a basic requirement to be a member of FIFA.

So, might we see a Vatican City team running out in World Cup 2014 qualifying matches?

Form for football

Well it was a widely known fact that popular Pope John Paul II, or the holy goalie as I prefer, was a decent keeper and Pope Benedict XVI’s Vatican got right behind Italian Seria B side Ancona in their recent quest to moralise football.

Seria B side Ancona present the current Pope with his own shirt

And the Vatican has played a ‘full international’ against San Marino in 2002, the other state locked inside Italy. According to Steve Menary’s book ‘Outcasts: The Lands that FIFA Forgot’ the result has never quite been cleared up. Wikipedia suggests the result was 0-0 but Menary has met “Vatican insiders insisting it was 1-1.”

Although the Vatican only has 800 inhabitants the nature of the place surely leaves them with enough time to organise a decent football team. Unlike the rest of the world a Vatican team wouldn’t be side tracked by sex, drugs or rock and roll, although there is evidence that says otherwise. Plus presumably the Vatican is the perfect place for any coach to muse on their tactics and maybe even receive some divine inspiration.

What are the chances?

But poor theological jokes aside the Vatican could call upon a community of one billion Roman Catholic’s to form a representative side and it would be no harder than gifting any talented Catholic footballer Vatican citizenship.

Crucially Vatican football enthusiasts are well aware of this point and Cardinal Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, kicked off wild speculation about the states footballing future when he said: “If we just take the Brazilian students from our Pontifical universities we could have a magnificent squad.”

Bertone’s vision was for a Vatican side to play in Seria A and of course Monaco have set a successful precedent of a national team playing in a domestic league for the Vatican to follow if they so wish.

A more feasible model for Vatican football could be a touring team that could follow the Pope and provide an alternative spectacle for any nations eyes with the possibility of engaging with football fans the tour might have otherwise failed to reach.

Just imagine what a powerful publicity tool an international football team could be for the Vatican, for Catholicism and Christianity. More akin to basketball’s Harlem Globe Trotters than San Marino, it could tour the world playing international sides and visiting the worlds Catholic communities rather than grinding out qualifying fixtures.

If I were a Catholic I would be fervently arguing for the creation of such a team to take the message worldwide to people who might not be inclined to watch the Pope deliver a sermon.

Playing politics

However, delivering a strong message is one thing that currently stands in the way of a Vatican representative side. Being a Non-FIFA country they are often invited to play in tournaments such as the VIVA World Cup for regions and non-recognised nations. The ‘problem’ being that the Vatican run the risk of scoring massive political and diplomatic own goals by playing nations trying to break away from a state, such as Northern Cyprus or Kurdistan.

If Wales hadn’t been one of footballs founding associations then it could be us who would be looking to the Vatican City to give our nation legitimacy through the football pitch.

The story of Vatican football is that really there is no story. If the Vatican wanted to play international football they could, they have a huge diaspora of Catholic’s worldwide to call upon and friends in high places, and I don’t mean God him/herself. (Presumably after that I won’t be invited to be the Vatican FA’s press officer.)

UEFA have publicly stated that “if the Vatican wants to become a member of UEFA all it has to do is apply. If it meets the requirements it will be accepted.”

Who knows what might happen to throw the Vatican’s football future into the open again? As the current Pope departs from his tour of England and Scotland having delivered a message against the cult of celebrity and broken society perhaps somewhere down the line football might be viewed as the right vessel for that message.

Bertone’s vision for a Brazilian Catholic side and the fact that the 2014 World Cup finals are being hostel by Brazil, a country with a strong Catholic faith, makes this the perfect time for the emersion of a Vatican national team, even if it is just for some pre-tournament friendlies.