Vienna's FC Mariahilf football team has issued a statement of regret after a friendly with the Vatican women's football team was cancelled Saturday after several FCM members lifted their jerseys whilst the Vatican anthem was playing, displaying painted ovaries and pro-abortion messages.
The Vatican soccer team, who had been invited to Vienna by FCM, decided not to go ahead with the June 22 match.
“The action of the three players was independently organized and carried out,” FCM stated. “We sincerely apologize to the Vatican team's players and guests from near and far that the game was not played.”
The club noted that “tolerance, diversity, of life forms, and peaceful coexistence are important to us, as we have pointed out with rainbow symbols. We therefore understand the demands and message of our players, but we find the timing of their expression inappropriate and therefore understand the emotion it caused.”
The friendly was scheduled to kick off in the early afternoon in a sports arena in Wien-Simmering. Beforehand, both sides had participated in a prayer service and blessing of the pitch.
Austrian state broadcaster ORF quoted one of the FCM players involved in the protest as saying the activists were "not aware of the consequences of their action in any way and would have liked to play the football match".
The activists also handed out leaflets to journalists attending the match. These stated that the activists did not assent to the Church's teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage.
"They were not aware that the timing of the action during the playing of the Vatican anthem and in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio could be detrimental to the idea of sport and ruin many weeks of preparation", reported the ORF.
When announcing the upcoming game, the German section of Vatican News reported FCM founder Ernst Lackner as saying he had initially not expected that the Vatican team would really accept the invitation, but that the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, had assured the Vatican team that FC Mariahilf was a serious team that was also strongly committed to charity.
The papal women's football team had its first appearance in 2018 and immediately received an invitation from FCM, which is currently playing in the Wiener Landesliga, the third highest league in domestic women's football.