Sport in the Czech Republic
Sport plays a significant part in the life of many Czechs who are generally loyal supporters of their favourite teams or individuals.
The two leading sports in the Czech Republic are football and ice hockey, both drawing the largest attention of both the media and supporters. The many other sports with professional leagues and structures include basketball, volleyball, team handball, Czech handball, athletics, floorball and others. Sport is a source of strong waves of patriotism, usually rising several days or weeks before an event and sinking several days after.
The events considered the most important by Czech fans are: the Ice Hockey World Championship, the Olympic ice hockey tournament, the European football championship, the football World Cup and qualification matches for such events. In general, any international match involving the Czech ice hockey or football national team draws attention, especially when played against a traditional rival: Germany in football; Russia, Finland, Sweden and Canada in ice hockey; and Slovakia in both. Both summer and winter Olympic games are also very popular.
The Czech national team
The Czech national team is one of the top teams in the world, regularly competing in the World Championship, the Winter Olympic Games and the Euro Hockey Tour. The national team captured their first Olympic Gold at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. From 1996 to 2001, the Czech Republic won six World Championship medals, including three consecutive gold from 1999 to 2001. Prominent Czech players include Jaromír Jágr, Dominik Hašek, Patrik Eliáš, Tomáš Plekanec, Aleš Hemský, Tomáš Kaberle, Milan Michálek and Robert Lang, who captained the 2006 Olympic team to a bronze medal. The team last won gold at the 2010 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships.
The Extraliga is the highest ranking ice hockey competition in the Czech Republic.
The team HC Lev Praha played two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) league, beginning with the 2012–13 season. The team qualified for the playoffs, but was eliminated by HC CSKA Moscow. In the 2013-2014 season they reached the final where they lost the Gagarin Cup to Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Football has been a popular sport amongst the locals. Previously the old Czechoslovakia team were a force to be reckoned with, finishing runners-up twice in the World Cup and winning UEFA Euro 1976. The sport gained even more support when the national team qualified for their first World Cup since the break-up of Czechoslovakia. More recently players such as Petr Čech, Tomáš Rosický and Pavel Nedvěd have gone on to achieve great success at top European clubs and have become national icons.
In domestic football, the Czech First League is the top-level in the Czech football league system. The most successful clubs are the two capital-based sides Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague. For a long time, Sparta Prague has supplied the national team with players such as Libor Sionko, Jaromír Blažek, Zdeněk Grygera, and Tomáš Rosický.
Baseball is growing in popularity but is still considered a minor sport. The Czech Republic hosted the 2009 Baseball World Cup. A few Czech have signed contracts and are now playing in Minor League Baseball. The Czech Republic was invited to compete in the qualifying round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Cricket has been played in the Czech Republic since 1997, however, as a sports body, joined the ICC International Cricket Council in 2000.
The Czech Cricket Union is the official governing body of the sport of cricket in Czech Republic. Its current headquarters is in Prague. The Czech Cricket Union is the Czech Republic's representative at the International Cricket Council and is an affiliate member. It is also a member of the European Cricket Council.
Josef Rössler-Ořovský, who introduced a number of sports in the then Czechoslovakia, among others skiing and tennis, was originally credited with starting rugby union as well back in 1895. He went to England and brought back a rugby ball with him. Efforts were made to play the game at the Czech Yacht Club, but a public struggle ensued, and rugby subsequently never really caught on.
Czechoslovakia was a founder member of FIRA in 1934, and joined the IRB in 1988.
Rugby League in the Czech Republic was started in 2006. The Czechs received government funding before a game was played there, and in their first game on August 5, 2006 in Prague, the Czechs went down 34-28 to the Netherlands.
In 2007 the Czech Republic took part in the European Shield tournament. This included two other 2nd tier nations; Germany and Serbia. Czech national team lost the both matches, v Germany 22-44 in Prague (4 August) and v Serbia 16-56 in Belgrade (18 August), and finished third.
Liberec (German: Reichenberg) hosted the FIL European Luge Championships in 1914 and 1939. Prague hosted the 1958 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in 1958. In 2009, Liberec hosted the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and the Ski Jumping World Cup always comes here in January.
The Czech Republic has produced a number of successful competitors in various skiing disciplines in recent years. Šárka Záhrobská has been a successful alpine skier, specialising in the slalom. She has won four World Championship medals in the discipline: a gold in 2007, a silver in 2009 and bronzes in 2005 and 2015. She also won a bronze in the slalom at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In cross-country skiing Kateřina Neumannová and Lukáš Bauer have enjoyed success. Neumannová won a gold medal in the 30 kilometre freestyle event at the 2006 Winter Olympics, as well as two World Championships in the 10 kilometre race in 2005 and 2007. She also won 18 races in the FIS Cross-Country World Cup. Bauer won the overall and distance World Cups in the 2007–08 seasons, as well as a silver and two bronze medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, and a silver in the 15 kilometre classical event at the 2009 World Championships. He is also a double winner of the Tour de Ski in 2008 and 2010.
In the sport of Biathlon World Championship golds have been won by Kateřina Holubcová (in the 15 kilometre individual event in 2003) and Roman Dostál (in the 20 kilometre individual in 2005). More recently Gabriela Soukalová enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2012–13, scoring four World Cup wins.
The Czech Republic hosts a number of tennis events each year, including the UniCredit Czech Open in Prostějov and Prosperita Open in Ostrava on the men's tour, the Sparta Prague Open in Prague on the women's tour, and the Strabag Prague Open for both men and women. The Czech Republic Davis Cup team and Czech Republic Fed Cup team sometimes play matches within the Czech Republic, too. The best tennis players from the Czech Republic include Ivan Lendl, Jan Kodeš, Tomáš Berdych, Radek Štěpánek, Martina Navratilova, Jana Novotná, Petra Kvitová and Lucie Šafářová.
Major sports facilities
Important Czech arenas and stadiums:
Tipsport arena – former home to Sparta Praha, has a seated capacity of 13,150 and was opened in 1962.
Tennis area Štvanice – The compound located on Štvanice island in Prague has 14 outdoor courts and 10 indoor courts. Its centre court has a capacity of 8,000 and hosts ATP and WTA tournaments on an annual basis.
The Olympic games
Among the most attractive events for Czech fans are the Ice hockey Olympics, especially against traditional rivals like Russia, Finland, Canada, and Slovakia. The greatest achievements include gold medals at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games.
In 2014, just under 340,000 youths were registered with the Czech Union of Sport, representing a fall of more than a third since 1989's Velvet Revolution.
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