Row over women cancels Muslim-Christian clergy soccer match

An argument over the participation of women in a football match between Muslim and Christian clergy in Norway has led to the cancellation of the "friendly" encounter.

The BBC reports that Muslim Imams had refused to play against women because it went against their beliefs about close physical contact with the opposite sex.

But when the church decided to drop its women players, the priests' team captain walked out in protest.

The game was meant to be an enjoyable end to a day-long conference in Oslo.

Members of the two faiths had been discussing ways of encouraging greater inter-faith dialogue at the event.

Church of Norway spokesman Olav Fykse Tveit said they had learnt of the imams' objections over the match two days before Saturday's conference.

"But because we thought it would be a nice conclusion of the conference we didn't want to call it off, so we decided to stage an all-men's team game instead," he said.

The decision outraged the women players in the Christian team, and prompted the captain to resign.

Just hours before the match, the church released a statement saying it had been called off.

"We realise now that it will be wrong to have a priest team without women," the statement said.

"The reactions we have had today shows us that this is being interpreted as a gender-political issue. This is why we cannot go through with the soccer match."

Mr Fykse Tveit said the outcome had not been solely negative.

"Both sides have learned to better understand our cultures and we have had an open discussion."

Muslim diplomats learn Church politics

Meanwhile, Middle East Online reports that about 20 diplomats from majority Muslim countries have been invited to a course on the Catholic Church's politics, according to the Pontifical Gregorian University's foundation.

The course to begin today, called "The Catholic Church and the Holy See's International Politics," will continue until 27 May, foundation president Fr Franco Imoda said.

"It is about making the Holy See's diplomacy more understandable and providing elements to better understand the Church's functioning as an international institution," he said.

Imoda said the idea for the course arose before last year's controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's speech that many interpreted as linking Islam and violence. The speech triggered widespread outrage in the Muslim world.

Those invited to the conference are from Algeria, Albania, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Turkey.

A diplomat from Montenegro, which has a majority Orthodox population but a significant number of Muslims, as well, has also been invited.

Unholy row at clergy soccer game (BBC News, 6/5/07)
Diplomats from Muslim countries to get lesson on Vatican politics (Middle East, 5/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Church of Norway
Church of Norway (Wikipedia)
Pontifical Gregorian University
Pontifical Gregorian University (Wikipedia)

Leaders in " landmark " Aussie interfaith meet (CathNews, 4/5/07)
Vatican soccer "dream team" on the move (CathNews, 23/1/07)
Islam a great religion, says Benedict in corrected Regensburg text (CathNews, 10/10/06)
Benedict stands firm despite calls to "retract or redress" (CathNews, 29/9/06)
Sorry Benedict reiterates "deep respect" for Islam (CathNews, 21/9/06)
Benedict "deeply sorry" for Muslim outrage but violence continues (CathNews, 18/9/09)
No chance of world without reason, says Benedict (CathNews, 13/9/06)
Interfaith summit condemns abuse of religion (CathNews, 7/7/06)
Cardinal Kasper joins landmark interfaith summit (CathNews, 4/7/06)
Nun on Downer's interfaith dialogue mission (CathNews, 13/3/06)
Vatican priests to strip for Clericus Cup (CathNews, 18/2/06)
Pell to host Muslim cleric at Cathedral Interfaith Prayer (CathNews, 31/3/04)

7 May 2007