Pope Francis Tuesday received the national football
teams of Italy and Argentina ahead of a friendly international
Wednesday in his honour at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.
"Frankly, it will be difficult for me to root for one team," the pope, who was born in Argentina from a family of Italian immigrants, said.
"Luckily it is a friendly and I recommend that it remains such. A sportsperson, while remaining a professional, does well to the society when he gets into this amateurish dimension.
"He builds the common good, starting from the values of fellowship, of beauty. Before being champions, be men, with your merits and flaws, with your heart and your ideas, your aspirations and your problems."
The pope, who is a registered supporter of the Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo de Almagro, received the group of about 200 people at the Sala Clementina in the Vatican. The Argentina team included world player of the year Lionel Messi.
"Even if you are famous, remain men in sport and in life; men, carriers of humanity. You are very popular and people follow you both on and off the pitch. It is a great social responsibility," the pope said.
"To team managers I say: do not make football a business that loses its sports values. This attitude keeps families in the stadiums and kerbs violence."
The pope also asked the delegations to pray for him "because I, too, on the pitch where God has placed me, can play an honest and courageous game for the good of us all."
Giancarlo Abete, the president of the Italian football federation (FIGC), said in his address that "(Wednesday's) game between two of the most prestigious and successful national teams in the world was organized together with our Argentine friends to homage your pontificate."
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