VATICAN CITY, Oct 11 (Reuters) The Vatican is backing a minor league team's bid to turn themselves into a beacon of morality for the frequently troubled world of Italian soccer.
AC Ancona are the pioneers of a code of ethics drafted by Italy's main Catholic sports body, the Centro Sportivo Italiano (CSI), which has the stated aim of making the third-tier club an ''innovative, ethical model of practising football''.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone praised the project in a statement read at its presentation yesterday, saying it was designed to ''bring out the human and spiritual values in sport''.
Pope Benedict XVI also encouraged the team after receiving a shirt with his name and the number 16 on from them at yesterday's general audience in St Peter's Square.
''Soccer should increasingly become a tool for the teaching of life's ethical and spiritual values,'' the Pope said.
By signing the code, the club are committed to promoting fair play and a family-friendly atmosphere at their games and to being transparent in all their financial dealings.
They also promise to make sure their professionals do community work and guarantee that their youth team players are not exploited and get a good all-round education.
The initiative is a response to the problems linked to corruption, financial mismanagement and crowd trouble that have beset Italian soccer in recent years.
In February a police officer was killed in rioting at a top-flight game in Catania and derby matches in Turin and Genoa were marred by clashes between fans in September.
Last year the game was shaken by a match-fixing scandal, which led to Juventus being demoted to Serie B and Lazio, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Reggina having points deductions. Juventus won promotion back to Serie A in May Ancona are one of a group of Italian clubs, which also includes Napoli and Fiorentina, who have had to restart from the lower leagues in recent years after going bankrupt.
Ancona, who went bust in 2004 following an unsuccessful season in the top-flight, are top of Group B of Italy's third tier, Serie C1.
The CSI, a lay body that is independent of the Holy See, coordinates sporting activities run for children in Italy's parishes, among other things.
REUTERS BJR KP1002