Football fever hits Czech Republic

15-06-2006

The Czech Republic is in the grip of a severe political stalemate, with neither left nor right capable of forming a majority government and the prospect of early elections lurking on the horizon. But honestly, who really cares?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Yes, Czechs have got far more important things on their minds at the moment - Jan Koller's thigh and Milan Baros's foot to name but two. For the next few weeks the Czech Republic along with the rest of the world will be glued to their TV screens for the World Cup.

You don't have to go far in Prague these days to find people watching or playing football - there's a mini pitch at the bottom of the Wenceslas Square, and big screens set up in a number of locations around the city centre. Vinohrady's legendary Riegrovy Sady beer garden has got two of them. I went along to sample the atmosphere during Brazil's first game against Croatia.

"My name's John. John Dvorak from Prague. I've been excited about the World Cup for about half a year, so now I feel very satisfied it's already started."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK So really something to look forward to then.

"Yeah, absolutely. I think it's one of the biggest sports events in the world. It's a nice festival of sports around the whole world."

Some people say it's getting terribly commercial.

"But tell me what is not getting very commercial in today's world. Somebody's got to make money somehow, and it's better to make it through football than by killing people. Football is played everywhere in our world. Everyone who has a little ball can play football, no matter what colour they are, how old they are. You can just play it."

And the chances of the Czechs making it to the final?

"I hope so. That's all I can say."

There was a very international feel to Riegrovy Sady on Tuesday, with fans from all over the world, not just Czechs, Brazilians and Croatians.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "Hello, I'm Will, and I'm from near Carlisle, in Cumbria, in the Lake District. I support England, but like Brazil as well. I think the World Cup is an amazing competition that brings together the whole world, that's why it's so brilliant. It is about football, but it's also about thinking about each country, playing each other, learning about other countries and their culture, and I think that's what the World Cup's about."

So you subscribe to this idea of World Cup as global village and all that.

"Exactly. I think it brings together nations. It's something like the Olympics, but maybe a bit more intense than that, because it's one sport, and everyone who goes there are really into this one sport, so you have an intense feeling between nations. But it's not an aggressive thing. I believe it's about banter, and in that way I think it brings countries closer together, rather than thinking about conflict and the wrong things that are going on in the world."

And you've just come from Germany, is that right?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "Yes, I'm based in Prague, but I'm hiring cars and driving to Germany for each England game. I love Prague, the people here are wonderful, it's a very relaxed and easy-going lifestyle. So I live here, go to Germany for each England game, and then come back."

So Brazil is your second choice team - you're wearing a Brazil shirt.

"Yes, I love Brazil, I spent three months there. I fell in love with the people, I fell in love with the culture. It's such a sexy country, everything about it is sexy, and that's why I love Brazil. So I've got a Brazil shirt on tonight. I don't believe you should just support one team. Obviously I'll always back England, but if Brazil are playing another team, I'll support Brazil, because I love Brazil. I love the Czech Republic, and I'll support the Czech Republic if they're playing. I'm going to buy their shirt tomorrow."

That shirt probably set you back a bit. What about this idea that the whole World Cup is becoming very commercial. The whole thing is just a commercial venture. It's all about advertising and sponsorship and so on.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "It is. A lot of is about advertising. A lot of the funds for it come from advertising. But I believe that's the way the world is going today. That's the system we've got. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I think the only way forward is that system. We need to find ways of making that system more equal and more fair. But the system that we have is the system of choice and demand and the public ultimately decides what they want by what they buy. I'm getting too political now, but yes, at the end of the day it is sponsored by big companies and a lot of money is involved. But it's still about the nations and the teams. I think that's much more than the money that goes into it."

And even those countries where football is still gaining in popularity were represented. Natasa is a nurse from San Diego in the United States.

"So many countries can get together and forget about politics, forget about money, just get together and drink and have a good time and remember that everybody's the same."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK But I guess you're very much in the minority in the US. Most people there prefer other sports to soccer.

"Not so much anymore though. There's a huge football fan club in the United States. Unfortunately on TV they don't play as many soccer games as they do the other sports, but we're there. There's still a lot of people watching it back in the States."

What do you think about the way the World Cup is cerebrated here in the Czech Republic?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "It's great. It reminds me of Munich, being in the beer garden. Everybody's just together. I'm sitting here with an Englishman, a Frenchman, another Englishman. Everybody's sitting here together drinking beer and it's just like anywhere else in Europe, almost."

So football really has that power to bring people of different nationalities together then.

"Yes. Together, you learn about each other, and learn that everybody can get along, pretty much and forget about whatever else is going on in the world. It's fun."

And your tip for who's going to win?

"I have no idea. I wouldn't mind seeing a country other than Brazil winning it, because Brazil have been winning each time. Give someone else a chance, all power to them!"

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK What about the US's chances?

"They're just like any other team. We practice just as much as anybody else. A lot of people say - football is not an American sport, go back to baseball, go back to American football, but everybody should come to realise that it's just a sport and everyone and anyone can play it. I played it as a kid, and I live in the US. So good luck to them. Obviously they're not doing very well, since they already lost their first match. But I'm sure they can pull through."

The views of Natasa from San Diego, Will from Carlisle, and Jan from Prague there, on the football World Cup. For the next three and a bit weeks, until July 9th to to precise, politics and everything else is very much on the back burner.

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