Pope Benedict XVI told Italy's Olympic team not to be tempted by performance-enhancing drugs, saying doping was a "blind alley'' that isn't worthy of such models of perseverance, sacrifice and human ability.
Benedict held an audience yesterday with members of Italy's Olympic and Paralympic teams in the frescoed Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, congratulating them on their 28 medals, eight of them gold, from the London Olympics.
The 85-year-old German pontiff said sport was beneficial for individuals and society, requiring loyalty, respect and altruism as well as patience and humility "which is never applauded but is the secret of victory.''
And while victory is a worthy goal, he said, "Pressure to win good results should never prompt you to take shortcuts as happens with doping.''
"Let the same team spirit be a spur to avoid these blind alleys, and also be a support to those who realize they have made mistakes, so that they feel welcomed and helped.''
One of the most noteworthy doping cases from the 2012 Games was that of Alex Schwazer, the Italian 2008 Olympic race walk champion who was expelled from London after testing positive for the banned blood booster EPO.
Schwazer broke down in tears recounting how he hid the banned substance in the home he was sharing with star figure skater Carolina Kostner.
The Vatican has long sought to emphasize the positive role that sports can play in society. Earlier this year, the Vatican's culture office opened a new "Culture and Sport'' department, saying the sporting world was in need of a "cathartic'' change to prevent it from spiraling into a profession dominated by money and drugs.
Benedict himself launched the London-based John Paul II Foundation for Sport during his 2010 visit to Britain. The late pope was an avid athlete who loved to ski and hike. Benedict is more scholar than sportsman but he nevertheless said Monday he appreciates the value of sport.
"Sport is both an educational and cultural benefit, able to reveal to man his own self and let him understand the most profound values of his life,'' Benedict said.