PM signals future changes in sports funding

Few sports fans in the Czech Republic will forget the recent Beijing Olympics, where the country notched up six medals, three silver and three gold. The games featured a number of gripping stories, including the very first gold medal win of the games by shooter Kateřina Emmons as well as Barbora Špotáková’s stunning last-minute win in the javelin. Yet days since the Olympics ended, the country’s prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, has now expressed disappointment. On Wednesday, Mladá fronta Dnes writes, he stated flatly that Czechs should have won more medals, given how much money the state spends on sport. He made clear, too, that there could now be changes to come.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Although Czech athletes earned six medals at the Beijing Olympics, six clearly weren’t enough. On Wednesday the prime minister told journalists the results could have been better. At the heart of the matter? Money. The Czech Republic spends billions on training future athletes up to the national level, and the prime minister seems certain at the games at Beijing, more medals could, and should, have been clinched. Certainly one can think of at least two instances: the legendary Roman Šebrle in the decathlon and champion Štepánka Hilgertová in the water slalom. They could have come away with medals if it weren’t for injuries or bad luck. But when is disappointment not a part of any competition? Jiří Krauskopf is the head of the Association of Sports High Schools in the Czech Republic:

“I have no problem with those who provide the funding managing how funds are spent. That’s their right. But to suggest that our athletes did too little just days after the Olympics, that’s simply insulting. Sport isn’t math, and even the best–trained and most talented athletes, after hundreds of hours of training, can come up short. I can’t imagine what we’d say to other excellent athletes, such as US shooter Mathew Emmons, if he were Czech. He had the misfortune of losing gold – not once, but twice - at the Olympics.”

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTKMirek Topolánek, photo: CTK The prime minister this week did praise Czech Olympians, including kayaker Štepánka Hilgertová, recognising that she went all out for gold rather than settle for “safe” silver. But clearly, Mr Topolánek is disquieted over the possible ineffective use of funding in sports, as well as a lack of star athletes on the country’s roster. He has now tasked the education ministry, overseeing a lion’s share (2.3 billion crowns) of sports funding to analyse overall effectiveness. Deputy Education Minister Jan Kocourek outlines areas that could be reviewed in the coming months, which could save money.

“Our aim will be to analyse the system, to make sure funds aren’t being spent needlessly. There might be examples in the bureaucracy, when you consider the involvement of different sports bodies, where funding can be streamlined. The money saved could then go directly to training athletes.”