Activists from the womens rights organisation Femen ring a bell in protest in the nave of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris. According to activists, the protest was organised to celebrate the resignation of Pope Benedict. Picture: Charles Platiau /Reuters

Thousands of gamblers across the globe may be praying that their bet comes in when the pope’s successor is announced.

Among names being punted by an online betting agency, South Africa’s Cardinal Wilfrid Napier has a one-in-80 chance of being elected head of the Catholic Church.

The UK and Irish betting site, Paddy Power, said yesterday that more than 4 000 bets from across the world had been placed on the papal successor since Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement on Monday.

Speaking to The Star, a spokesman for the betting agency said Napier was popular among Irish gamblers because of his link to that country.

“We’re seeing some support for him from Irish punters as he studied in Ireland,” Féilim Mac An Iomaire said.

Napier graduated from Galway University in the Republic of Ireland in 1964, with a degree in Latin and English, and was later awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the institution.

His odds were 80/1 – which the betting company believed gave him a one-in-80 chance of being elected pope.

Yesterday, two African cardinals featured in the top three most likely candidates with the odds in their favour.

Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana was in the lead at 3/1, while Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria was in third place at 9/2.

A Canadian cardinal, Marc Ouellet, just pipped Arinze with odds of 7/2.

But by midday, Ouellet had jumped to number one position while Turkson and Arinze followed in second and third place respectively.

Mac An Iomaire said the odds were initially set by Paddy Power after talking to commentators, but an influx of bets would cause the company to re-evaluate a candidate’s odds if he is more likely to get the nod.

The bets on the possible successor already amounted to £100 000 (R1.4 million) as of yesterday.

The company expected punts on this papal election to dwarf the previous one in 2005.

“Last time round we took more than £1 000 000 worth of bets and we fully expect to pass this figure before the new pope is announced,” Mac An Iomaire said.

He added that the election would most likely be the company’s highest non-sporting event in terms of a monetary bet.

Meanwhile, the site also rates the chances of a staunch atheist higher than that of Bono, the Irish frontman of the rock band U2, known for his charity work.

Richard Dawkins had odds of 666/1 – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the number of the beast due to his well-publicised atheist beliefs – while Bono came in at 1000/1.

“We were inundated with requests to include (Dawkins) in the betting. He’s clearly a long shot and we decided to have a bit of fun with his odds,” Mac An Iomaire said.

Father Dougal McGuire, the dim-witted fictional priest in the Irish sitcom Father Ted, was tied with Bono at the time of publication.

The Star