Returning Czech Soccer Star Amazed By State of the Domestic Game
This season the Czech soccer league is heading towards its most dramatic finish for several years, with the unfashionable Viktoria Zizkov keeping the pressure up on a faltering Slovan Liberec until the very last game. The runaway winners of the last few seasons, Sparta Prague, lost all hope of retaining the title several weeks ago, but still have a chance of bagging second place and a start in at least the preliminary round of the lucrative Champions League. Sparta's respectable performance in the Champions League along with Liberec's unexpected exploits in the UEFA Cup - Liberec saw off Spanish Celta Vigo and Real Mallorca before going out to multi-million euro Borussia Dortmund - did much to re-establish the international reputation of Czech football damaged by the national team's failure to reach the World Cup finals.
Nevertheless, the domestic game is plagued by persistent accusations that matches are not decided on the pitch but fixed in various back rooms. Betting shops refuse to take bets on some games. National team players have been indulging in mutual public recriminations following the team's ignominious exit from the World Cup qualifiers, when captain Pavel Nedved and Milan Baros were sent off in the ugly final minutes of the home defeat by Belgium. Open expressions of racism are an endemic problem at many grounds, but the Czech football authorities are lethargic in response.
Who's the Cash-Box in the Black?
Many respected figures in Czech football are in no doubt that the playing field in Czech football is far from level. "Of course the Czech league's not fair," Miroslav Kadlec told Czech paper LN (April 18). Kadlec, who captained the Czech side that reached the final of Euro 1996, spent eight years at German club Kaiserslautern, where he won two Bundesliga championship medals. "As someone who has played football abroad, I never cease to be amazed at some of the things going on here " says Kadlec, citing the strange situation surrounding the sale of nine first team players by Drnovice to Pribram just before the transfer deadline and the quality of referees. "Even in Germany referees sometimes make mistakes, but when they make more than five in one game, it makes you wonder...It is difficult to say if it is a case of them being influenced," says Kadlec. However, Kadlec himself threatened to quit football altogether after criticizing the referee's role in Brno's defeat at Zizkov. "There is a lot of suspicion. All the functionaries sob that the atmosphere around football is not good, but they themselves cause this by their behaviour...It's connected with society as a whole. When society is full of corruption and muddle, how can football be clean?" asks Kadlec.
Don't Look Too Close, You Might Regret It
If someone, such as the manager of Bohemians Klasacek, does speak up and point to some of the most blatant cases of behind-the-scenes foul play in football, then he immediately gets a black mark and is ostracized as a traitor by the Czech football authorities, says journalist Stepan Filipek (LN, April 20). There exist video recordings of meetings at which club bosses agree on match fixing, claims Filipek. Club bosses mutually slander one another but cannot come forth with evidence, because they know that others hold incriminating evidence of their own previous corrupt doings. According to Filipek, critics, including journalists who look to closely below the surface, become the target of menacing phone calls, which may even threaten their families with liquidation. It is no surprise, he adds, that the Czech-Moravian Football Association (CMFA) does nothing and claims everything is fine, since it is controlled by the club bosses. The former chair of the CFMA, Frantisek Chvalovsky, is facing criminal charges of loan fraud, as is former deputy CFMA chair Jan Gottvald.
Last Minute Player Exodus Leaves CMFA Unmoved
Meat business entrepreneur Chvalovsky financed the rise of west Bohemian village club Blsany to the first division. Chvalovsky, facing charges of defrauding creditors, claims he no longer has anything to do with Blsany. However, Blsany forward David Sourada was recently reported as saying that Chvalovsky had promised the players a bonus if they avoided relegation.
Drnovice, a small village near Vyskov in south Moravia, leapt into the first soccer league in 1992, backed by Gottvald, who also made his fortune primarily in the food business. The club consistently finished in the top half of the league and twice reached the Czech Cup final during the 1990s. Gottvald intervened to save the club after the bankruptcy of its main sponsor Chemapol. In 2000, Drnovice finished third in the league, winning a place in the UEFA Cup, where they put up a respectable performance going out 0-1 on aggregate to German Munich 1860. However, after Gottvald's business empire collapsed in a wave of unproven criminal charges, the club was sold to the mysterious Corimex before going into liquidation. A few days before this year's transfer deadline, nine of the club's first team players were sold to Pribram. The court appointed administrator of FK Drnovice declared that the transfers were invalid without her signature, and no money has apparently been actually received at the club, but the CMFA announced that the transfers were in accordance with its regulations and in order. "Some say the league is fair. I'm of a different opinion," says Eduard Lasota, the former international midfielder who played for several years in Italy before returning to Drnovice and who declined to be part of the mass exodus.
Smicer Claims Lack of Discipline Brought Down National Side
Speculation also accompanied the appointment of a new national team coach to succeed Jan Chovanec, who resigned after press criticism of the team's failure to get through to the World Cup in Japan and Korea. Two of the four short-listed candidates withdrew almost immediately, claiming that the result had been decided in advance. Josef Jarabinsky, initially regarded as the front-runner, also withdrew shortly before the CMFA meeting amid press reports that a decision in favour of Karel Bruckner was a foregone conclusion.
The post mortem of the reasons for the national team's failure started with recriminations between senior players. Patrick Berger and Tomas Repka criticized captain Pavel Nedved and announced they would no longer play for the national side. In Repka's case, this was somewhat ironic, since Repka was one of those who picked up a senseless red card, and the subsequent decision of trainer Chovanec to allow Repka to stay on at the training centre even though he was barred from playing in the next game was heavily criticized.
Lack of discipline, a false camaraderie, and hypocrisy led to the team's downfall, says Vladimir Smicer, the Liverpool winger who says he decided to carry on with the national team because he does not want to pack it in after a failure. "All of a sudden we were all about the same age, even as coach Chovanec and his assistants, and we became all too big friends. All problems were overlooked, compromises were made, and everything went downhill," says Smicer. Everyone stuck their head in the sand and ignored anything unpleasant, he adds, criticizing himself for doing this as well. "The basis for every success is discipline and this is built from the top down," says Smicer. "If someone gets a senseless red card and as a punishment all that happens is the statement that it is his problem, this certainly doesn't strengthen discipline," says Smicer, who contrasts this with "firm and fair" approach of Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier. "In three years at Liverpool, I don't remember a player exploding and lashing out at an opponent or arguing with the referee...Everyone is afraid to do this, because they know that it would be the end for them at Liverpool. Houllier made it clear that anyone whose actions turn against the team he will have out of Liverpool within 14 days, and this applies to everyone, even Owen and Heskey," says Smicer.
Bananas and Oranges
Expressions of racism are the order of the day at many grounds and the few coloured players in the Czech league are often given a hard time by the opposing fans. A few years ago, fans of Sparta, pelted Kennedy Chihuri of Zizkov with oranges and bananas. "We bought up all the bananas and oranges in Zizkov," boasted a fan to Czech paper MfD. The racist chants of Sparta fans during European games earned the club a fine from UEFA. The club's attempt to win over its own fans to tolerance by purchasing Cameroon international Patrice Abanda has been unsuccessful. The hard-core fans did not take to Abanda. "I really object," Sparta fan Marek told MfD, explaining that "blacks can't play football, as it's not in their genes." Marek says he is glad Abanda spent most of the season on the sub's bench, since "at least it doesn't make my stomach turn."
Sparta fans are altogether an unforgiving bunch. Angered at their own team's recent lacklustre performances, they recently attacked the team bus, smashing its windows and informing the players that if they did not improve they could expect further such attacks.
Hands raised in Nazi salutes are common at grounds. Interior Minister Gross says this is not enough to provide evidence of the crime of incitement to racial hatred. "Even if we get someone on video [giving the Nazi salute] it doesn't do us any good," says police officer specializing in racist crime at football grounds Jiri Kopecny. "At the interrogation he says: I wasn't giving the Nazi salute. I was just showing my friend how high our dog can jump.' However, police have recently charged one fan captured on video shouting racist slogans at Ostrava railway station.
International Experience Can Provide a Way Forward
"The state of football is a reflection of the level of society," says Vladimir Smicer. Miroslav Kadlec sees hope for change in the increasing number of Czech footballers who play abroad. "At the moment if someone comes forward with criticism, there is a fuss for 14 days, then everyone forgets about it...We will have to wait until more players return from foreign clubs...We could get a group of people together who would agree on some proper rules and then make sure that these would apply," says Kadlec.
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