Sports

New Argentine semi-professional club named for Pope Francis begins play in regional league

  • Soccer players from the team "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis, huddle before their match against Trefules in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The new semiprofessional team named after the Argentine pontiff chose the colors of the Vatican flag for their uniforms. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    Soccer players from the team "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis, huddle before their match against Trefules in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The new semiprofessional team named after the Argentine pontiff chose the colors of the Vatican flag for their uniforms. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)  (The Associated Press)

  • Ernesto Ortiz, from the new semi-professional soccer team "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis, kneels and gestures to the sky after missing a chance to score against Trefules during their debut game in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The team named in honor of the Argentine pontiff chose the colors of the Vatican flag for their uniforms. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    Ernesto Ortiz, from the new semi-professional soccer team "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis, kneels and gestures to the sky after missing a chance to score against Trefules during their debut game in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The team named in honor of the Argentine pontiff chose the colors of the Vatican flag for their uniforms. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)  (The Associated Press)

  • Marcelo Benitez, center, of the "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis team, vies for the ball between Trefules' David Vallejos, right, and Juan Manuel Pianetti in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The match was the debut for the semi-professional Pope Francis team, which wore uniforms with the colors of the Vatican flag. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    Marcelo Benitez, center, of the "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis team, vies for the ball between Trefules' David Vallejos, right, and Juan Manuel Pianetti in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The match was the debut for the semi-professional Pope Francis team, which wore uniforms with the colors of the Vatican flag. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)  (The Associated Press)

A new Argentine soccer team named after Pope Francis and meant to promote nonviolence played it first official game in a regional league — a 2-2 draw that saw four players sent off.

The Papa Francisco team was founded by Jorge Ramirez, an admirer of the pope. It has 47 members and was set up in meetings at Ramirez's house, located 12 miles south of Buenos Aires, shortly after the archbishop of the city, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was named pope.

Pope Francis is an avid soccer fan and a supporter of Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo. He has no official connection to the Papa Francisco club.

The semi-professional team plays in the lower regions of the Argentine league system, and chose the nickname: "The Saint of the South." The behavior on the pitch in the first game against Trefules wasn't particularly saintly, though, as two players from each team were sent off.

"Our motto is no hooligans, no violence and no insults," said Ramirez, the club president.

The club could serve as a much-needed antidote for Argentine soccer, which is plagued at all levels by violence and hooligan groups known in Spanish as "barras bravas." Violence is endemic in the Argentine game, and the Argentine Football Association has been criticized for doing little to stamp it out.

The club was almost named Real Buenos Aires, in honor of the famous Spanish club Real Madrid, but eventually the idea of naming a club to honor the Argentina-born pope prevailed.

The first match was played appropriately in Lujan, a site revered by local Roman Catholics. Its famous Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan could be glimpsed from the playing field.

Several players acknowledged it may be difficult to always be on their best behavior. But's is clear they will try.

"It will be a complicated thing if we insult others," midfielder Fabian Gaddi said. "But the pope is Argentine and he knows and understands us."