'There are more important things than soccer'

ROME -- All sports events in Italy this weekend were suspended in a sign of respect for Pope John Paul II.

The pope died Saturday evening at the Vatican. He was 84.

Gianni Petrucci, president of Italy's Olympic Committee, said Saturday the decision applies to the country's top soccer league, a playoff deciding the Italian ice hockey title, basketball and volleyball league games and amateur sports. Auto racing was canceled at the Imola circuit.

The committee said it had asked all national federations to immediately suspend all scheduled events over the weekend.

"It was the only decision to be taken," Petrucci said.

The announcement came as thousands of people filled St. Peter Square to keep vigil while all Italian media devoted full-time coverage to reports from Vatican City.

On Friday, coaches of soccer powerhouses AC Milan and Juventus had called for the suspension of play in view of the pope's worsening condition.

"It's fair that the sport is stopped ... there are more
important things than soccer," Cagliari captain Gianfranco Zola

Co-leaders Milan and Juventus and third-place Inter were set to play crucial Italian league games Saturday leading to their Champions League commitments next week. Six Serie A games were scheduled for Sunday.

"It was impossible to take the field while the entire world is living with great emotion these hours so delicate for the health of the Holy Father," Fiorentina captain Angelo Di Livio said.

Milan and Inter are scheduled to play the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal at San Siro on Wednesday. There was no immediate word on whether this game could be postponed.

Outside Italy, some Formula One drivers preparing for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix expressed sympathy for the pope but ruled out a possible postponement of the race.

Italy's Giancarlo Fisichella, who drives for Benetton-Renault and won the opening race in Australia last month, agreed.

"I don't think that the Formula One must be stopped ... It's right to compete," he said.