16 December 2014, The Tablet

Francis backs Italy’s 2024 Olympic bid – 'though I might not see them'

Pope Francis has lent his support to Rome's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, but says he will not be around to witness them. 

And a senior cardinal this week proposed the Vatican could host events at the Games if the Italian capital secured the nomination.

Events such as football and archery could be staged in the Vatican Gardens and at the Papal summer palace at Castel Gandolfo, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins said. 

Meeting the Italian Olympic Committee on Friday morning the Pope, who celebrated his 78th birthday on Wednesday, said that he wished the team “good luck with the bid”.

“But I will not be there,” he added. 

If the Games were held in Rome in September 2024, Francis would be 87.

There are currently 12 cardinals over 90. The oldest living cardinal currently is Loris Francesco Capovilla, aged 99. 

However, aides have raised concerns about Francis' health as since being elected last year he has refuses to take holiday. He is known to suffer from sciatica and has only one full lung. Part of the other was removed during an illness when he was a young man. 

Francis is a card-carrying member of his local team San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires. He has been vocal in his support of sport. He sent a special message to the football World Cup in Brazil in June and blessed "the diplomacy of cricket" when a new Vatican Catholic team played an Anglican side in September.

Francis told members of the Italian Olympic Committee on Friday: “Sport has always favoured a universalism characterised by brotherhood and friendship between different peoples, peace and harmony between nations, respect and tolerance of diversity.”

Sports, “especially the Olympics, can help to open new paths and overcome conflict,” he said.

Sceptics have panned Rome's audacious bid this week, pointing out that the country is still mired in Italy's longest post-war recession and would struggle to pay for the Games. 

But Cardinal Saraiva told the Florence-based daily La Nazione he believed Francis would approve of the motion and would agree to hold events such as archery in the Vatican gardens.

He went on: "But why stop there? The holiday residence of the Pope at Castel Gandolfo would be perfect and would also bring new energy to the people around Lake Albano."

He said: "The Vatican has always encouraged sport as a vehicle of healthy values. I think Francis will approve."

The cardinal added: "The Church has always defended sport because its values are not only Christian but universal. It teaches you how to put human values such as compromise and collaboration in practice overcoming division."

He said he would like to see Olympic football matches played at the Vatican "as it is a great passion of mine as well as of the Pope".

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