The Czech national team is well placed at the halfway stage of the qualification campaign for the European women's football championship, which is to be held in England in 2005. The Czechs lie in second place in their group and have a very good chance of winning at least a place in the play-offs. The success of the national team reflects the improving situation in this country for a sport that is growing in popularity. Earlier this month, the Czech Football Association held a press conference aimed at raising awareness of the development of women's football across the nation. We went along to find out more.
The fact that the Czech women's football team have so far only lost to world champions Germany in their qualification group for the European championships in 2005 is indicative of the country's improved standing in the game. The Czechs are now ranked 22nd in the world and are in the top ten in Europe. The country's success in women's football reflects the increasing popularity of the sport here. There are now around 10,000 Czech women playing football with 95 different clubs, some of whom are regularly vying with each other in a nationwide league. I asked Czech international midfielder, Blanka Penickova, if this upsurge in the sport could see the emergence of professional football teams in this country:
"I would say professionalism is very far off. We are amateur and I think we will stay that way for a long time."
Dusan Zovinec, the national team coach, is more optimistic:
"I would say a considerable amount of funds are going into women's football from clubs like Sparta and Slavia, and the teams they look after. Essentially, it's heading towards a situation whereby the top clubs are not going to be able to operate as an amateur association but are going to have to move towards semi-professionalism with things like contracts and wages for players... I think it's apparent that we have set the ball rolling in this regard, and that we are moving in the right direction."
Mr Zovinec also claimed that corporate sponsorship for women's football and support from government institutions was also beginning to pick up, although more of this would undoubtedly be welcome. In view of the significant progress being made in Czech women's football. I asked Mr Zovinec if it was not rather strange that the national team still had a male coach:
"Naturally, we know that one day the final product will be controlled by women, and that women will be working as trainers, referees and so on, just like they are in England and Germany. But even in places like Germany and Sweden, you can see that the organisational teams are composed of two or three women, but that they also contain men who are working as the team manager or doctor. As a result, I don't think the situation here is too catastrophic."
Anyone interested in further details concerning women's football in the Czech Republic can find out more by visiting the website of the Czech FA at www.fotbal.cz and clicking on the "Women" link