Catholic center works to clean up sports

ROME – A Catholic sports association has partnered with a once-scandal-plagued Italian soccer team in an effort to help clean up sports.

The Italian Sports Center, the Catholic Action’s sports association in Italy, struck an agreement with minor league squad A.C. Ancona to offer it “a new model” for running a sports team based on strong ethics and good business sense, said the center’s Oct. 2 press release.

Team managers, members, trainers, players and fans will have to adhere to a new ethics code drawn up by the Catholic sports center.

Reforms include requiring players to perform a certain number of hours of mandatory volunteer service, a cap on players’ salaries, greater transparency in the club’s finances, and more family-friendly games that ban unruly, abusive or racist fans and banners.

Ticket prices to games will be cut and club profits will be reinvested in projects which help the developing world and Catholic youth in Italy.

Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo, who played in a recent charity match against Italian singers, told the Italian daily La Stampa Oct. 3, “It is a way to moralize soccer and bring back some ethics to a field that has experienced a serious crisis of values.”

Italy’s dream sport became a nightmare when police investigations discovered in 2006 that some top major league owners, players and referees long had been involved in game-fixing, fraud, corruption and illegal betting. The so-called “soccer-gate scandal” resulted in teams found guilty being thrown out of the major league and bumped down to the minor leagues.

Scandal, however, already had hit A.C. Ancona in 2004 when the team’s president was jailed for accounting fraud, forcing the club into bankruptcy and to slip deeper into the minor leagues.

The team’s new president, Sergio Schiavoni, cleaned up the club’s operations and attracted the attention of the Italian Sports Center, which had been looking to work with a professional soccer team.

The Catholic sports association did not purchase the team or a portion of its shares; it merely promised to find the club some new sponsors in exchange for the club’s adopting and enforcing its new ethical code.

Edio Costantini, head of the Italian Sports Center, said they want to show that fair play and good sportsmanship can translate into a successful soccer team, according to the center’s Web site.

He said they hope to present their formula, called “Project Soccer,” to other teams and sports.
The Italian Sports Center Web site said Costantini and Schiavoni would present the A.C. Ancona team’s new uniform shirt to Pope Benedict XVI during his Oct. 10 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

That same evening the team was to play a friendly match against players from the Clericus Cup, a soccer championship exclusively for priests and seminarians in Rome created by the Italian Sports Center.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.