VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI issued a message ahead of the kick-off of Euro 2012 later on Friday in Poland in which he declared football was like a school that taught people about respect for one another and how to make sacrifices for the good of the rest of the team.
The German-born pontiff - whose predecessor Poland-born Pope John Paul II was a well-regarded goalkeeper in his youth - added that football was also about fraternity and love.
It was a pertinent and well-timed message for the championship, being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, has been overshadowed by some spectators chanting racist abuse at a Dutch training session in Krakow.
The 85-year-old's message was addressed to the president of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Jozef Michalik, which was broadcast by Radio Vatican.
"Team sport such as football is an important school in educating people to respect one another - as well as one's opponent - on how to make sacrifices for others and the value of the gifts of each element that makes up the team," said the conservative pontiff, who was elected to his post in April 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II.
"It is in a word something that bypasses individual logic and of egotism, which often characterises human relations, and replaces it by fraternity and love, one that promotes a genuine good at all levels."
Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, also cited John Paul II, who is worshipped all over Poland but especially in Krakow where he was archbishop and where several Euro 2012 teams are based.
"The sense of fraternity, magnanimity, honesty and respect for the body are without doubt indispensable to every good athlete."