Czech football, and possibly sport in general, is in a free fall.
The oldest and one of the most popular football clubs in the Czech Republic saw its first league professional license annulled yesterday, due to its debts.
The negative verdict was given by the Czech Football Association at the same moment when Slavia fans were rioting at the club’s multi-million Prague arena, opened in 2008, after a Czech national cup semi-finale against Olomouc was suspended due to disturbances.
Slavia fans used the match as an opportunity to voice their anger and disappointment with the club’s management and its financial decisions.
Riot police had to intervene in order to protect the members of the club management from angry fans.
Decline of Czech sport, broadcast live
The match, suspended after the first half, and the eventual shameful rioting scenes at the stadium were broadcast live by the public service Czech Television.
One of the most popular Czech football clubs losing its professional license, suspended Czech cup semi-final match, and riots inside the Czech Republic’s most modern football arena, broadcast live by the national TV, symbolized the decline of Czech sport.
Until recently, football – with its 500,000 registered players and much more fans in the Czech Republic – was associated with high TV viewership, huge advertisement profits, stable private sector investments, and generous state subventions.
Currently though, after a series of scandals, large corporate investors and media appears to be losing their interest in football and turn to hockey, another popular sport much less stained by scandals, corruption allegations, and fan violence.
Sazka and Slavia
In the context of the Czech Republic, Slavia is so important and influential sport club that its fall produces a serious problem for all Czech sport, already seriously damaged by the financial problems of Sazka, a Czech betting giant.
Importantly, the problems of Sazka and Slavia have much in common.
Both Sazka and Slavia use modern – and expensive – stadiums in Prague. However, Slavia is not the owner of the football arena it shares with Bohemians, another football club in Prague.
Also, to call Sazka’s and Slavia’s ownership structure obscure would be a serious understatement – Slavia does not even know the identity of its shareholders. Needless to say, in this situation it is impossible to learn what their entrepreneurial intentions are.
Miroslav Pelta, an influential football manager with close ties to Slavia, estimated that the club would need roughly CZK 200mil (approximately EUR 8mil). Slavia is in debt to its (alleged) former owner, British ENIC. It also owes millions to players, managers, and other people and companies that have contributed to the club’s activity.
However, Slavia has 30 days to appeal against the verdict. So the club has one month to pay its most urgent debts. “I see it as a fifty-fifty chance that Slavia survives,” said Vladimír Šmicer, a retired Slavia legend.
Ivan Hašek, the chairman of the Czech football association, thus has yet another problem to solve, in addition to corruption among referees and recent less-than-impressive results of the Czech national team.
Slavia’s problems are a problem for all the Czech professional football, because with Slavia it can lost a significant part of its value. Not only the famous Prague derby between Slavia and its arch-rival, Sparta, but also Slavia’s matches with other teams have always been very attractive for spectators. Now, the league may lose a part of its viewership – on stadiums, but also in TV. Which means less advertisement revenue.
Yesterday’s riots, broadcast live, caused further damage. First, they created another stain on the reputation of the Czech professional football in general and Slavia in particular. Second, the club will be fined for the events. And, third, the victory in the suspended Czech cup semi-final match is expected to be awarded to the guest team, Olomouc, which means that Slavia is out of the cup, losing its last chance to participate in UEFA European competitions, which have been a source of hundreds of thousands of euro for the club in the last decade.
If Slavia fails to successfully appeal against the verdict, it will be relegated into the third football league.
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