Vatican opposition to morally questionable sponsor could halt Bargnani’s move to Italy

Eric Freeman
October 19, 2011

European-born NBA players have had an advantage during the lockout. As American free agents attempt to find jobs overseas, players like Timofey Mozgov and Andrei Kirlenko have signed elsewhere with little problem. They know that world better than most and are more equipped to get a deal quickly with a franchise they know to be welcoming.

Raptors enigma Andrea Bargnani should be one of those players. Recently, he has attempted to work out a deal with Italian club Virtus Roma, which needed to work out a sponsorship deal to finance Bargnani's considerable salary. They finally found one in AshleyMadison.com, a perfectly normal website that helps people schedule extramarital affairs. What could ever be the matter with that?

Oh, right, Virtus Roma's facilities are right next to Vatican City, so the Catholic Church may have some sway over the decision. The Italian outlet Sportando reported the story in poorly translated English (via SLAM Online):

The deal to bring back to Italy and Virtus Roma, Andrea Bargnani is done. But the owner of the Italian team, Claudio Toti, did not say YES yet. The biggest problem is ethic. In a country where Vatican has big influence in any aspect of life (politics included), having as sponsor AshleyMadison.com, a website who promotes infidelity, is not easy. And Vatican City is also next to Virtus Roma facilities (the arena where the team is playing is also the main gym of the club).

As Noel Biderman said to La Stampa "It is good if the Church would not enter in the business world". Biderman, founder of the website AshleyMadison.com, who has been working for sports agency Interpeformances, explained also to Toronto Star why he is trying to bring Andrea Bargnani to Virtus Roma. "This pursuit came about for two reasons — I have some good personal connections in Italy having worked for one of Europe's largest sports agencies (which is based there) and secondly, we have recently launched Ashley Madison into Italy — its 16th country," Biderman said in an email.

Italy has a complicated relationship with sexual impropriety -- just ask Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who flaunts his love of women three times his juniors and would probably use AshleyMadison.com if his substantial fortune didn't render it irrelevant. Nevertheless, the Vatican has influence over these kinds of decisions, and if it has a problem with the arrangement then Toti may well cancel it. Don't ask why he thought this idea was a good one in the first place. Presumably he likes families to come to the team's games.

If Toti does nix it, then Virtus Roma will need to find another sponsor, preferably one that will bring about no controversy whatsoever. Are there any companies in Italy that make chastity belts?