The newly formed Vatican women's team called off a friendly football match in Vienna after several Austrian players protested the church's anti-abortion stance, an Austrian football official said Sunday.
The Vatican side, which was founded this year, refused to play Saturday after three Austrians lifted their shirts to reveal pro-choice messages painted on their stomachs and backs when the anthems were played before kick-off, said Ernst Lackner, chairman of Vienna's Mariahilf team.
Lackner said football officials had not been aware of the women's protest plans and would review the incident, although he added freedom of expression "should be respected".
"They (the Vatican team) didn't come out to play... It's really regrettable the game was called off," he told AFP, adding it was supposed to be the Vatican women's first match abroad.
Austrian public broadcaster ORF quoted Danilo Zennaro, a representative of the Vatican sports association, as saying that the game was scrapped "because we are here for the sport, and not for political or other messages".
Zennaro and the Vatican's Vienna representative did not immediately return requests for comment.
A Mariahilf player said they hadn't expected the protest action to lead to the game to be cancelled.
The Vatican women's team was formed earlier this year, more than three decades after the men's side.
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