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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 19:35 GMT
Pope backs football life lessons
Pope receives ball and shirt from  Italian soccer federation president Giancarlo Abete (left) and William Punghellini, President of the Interregional Soccer Committee (right)
The Pope was presented with a ball and a football shirt
Pope Benedict XVI says football has a crucial role to play in teaching young people the important lessons of life - honesty, solidarity and fraternity.

He raised concerns about corruption damaging the image of the so-called Beautiful Game but said younger generations could learn from it.

The Pope was meeting Italian football professionals and a delegation from the lower division Serie D.

The German-born pontiff is said to be a fan of Bavarian giants Bayern Munich.

"I'd like the game of football to be a vehicle for the education of the values of honesty, solidarity and fraternity, especially among younger generations," he told the footballing pilgrims.

But Italian football has been embarrassed by a string of investigations into corruption and match-fixing allegations in recent years.

The League has been suspended twice in successive seasons as the Federation tries to combat a spate of hooliganism.

New ethics

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Rome says the less glamorous clubs have been taking a bigger role in grooming Italy's next generation of talent at a time when the bigger clubs are dropping youth schemes in favour of big money transfers.

It is the second time this season that the Vatican has turned its attention to football. In October, the Vatican sporting club announced it was joining forces with AC Ancona, a team in the second division, Serie B.

Since then, they have introduced a new code of ethics. There are now cheaper seats for families and club players who were booked for unsporting behaviour are subject to tough new sanctions.

The Pope, whose predecessor John Paul II played in goal in his youth, says he hopes the change of direction at Ancona will serve as an example to others.

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