August will always be remembered in the Czech republic as the month of an invasion. This year, it's Slovak investors invading Czech sports.
The Slovak investment company, Harvardská investiční společnosť (H.I.S.) took over the majority stake in Czech hockey's four-time league champion HC Petra Vsetín on August 15. Two days later, the Slovnaft Moravia petrochemical company bought a controlling interest in the BK ICEC Opava basketball club.
The moves stung a sports world that has never fully gotten over its premier soccer team, AC Sparta Praha, being bought by Alexander Rezeš, a former Minister of Transportation in Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar's Cabinet and currently a campaign manager for the ruling Slovak party, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Rezeš went as far in June as to have Sparta play a game in jerseys bearing the initials of Mečiar's HZDS.
According to Stanislav Šulc, chairman of Association of Professional Hockey Clubs (APK), the influx of Slovak investments to Czech sports is a result of the current economic situation in the Czech republic.
"The [Czech] government's support for sports has not been sufficient at all and it's hard to expect any changes form the new [Social Democratic] government.," Šulc said. "[Sports] Clubs are forced to seek financial resources, even abroad."
The tighter spending policies initiated by the Czech government in May 1997 resulted in a drop in the state's financial support for sports. The state's sports subsidy dropped by 80 million Czech crowns ($ 2.4 million) last year, 15% of the total.
With the Social Democrats' ambitious plans of investments in education and other spheres, Czech sports can hardly expect a boost from the state budget.
Vladimír Balaník. H.I.S. vice president, said "we bought the Vsetín club since it is the best Czech club, and Czech hockey belongs - after its Olympic triumph - at the top of the world." H.I.S. bought 67% of Vsetín stakes from C.H.C. company, a part of the Chemapol Group. Chemapol, a petrochemical giant, lost 5.5 billion Czech crowns in 1997 and the group plans to slim down by shedding some of its subsidiaries.
"Chemapol wanted to get rid of our stakes and, thank God, H.I.S. was interested in purchasing them," explained the former HC Vsetín president Petr Husička. Husička stepped down to the position of vice president. He will be replaced by Juraj Široký of Slovakia. Široký is both H.I.S. president and chairman of the Slovak Ice Hockey Association.
Husička ruled out the possibility that top Czech hockey players would be transferred from Vsetín to Slovakia. H.I.S. also owns Slovak hockey champion Slovan Bratislava. "The contract [with H.I.S.] helped us cover our budget and it enables us to challenge for the fifth consecutive Extraliga title," Husička said.
Opava basketball club manager Dušan Štěnička also thanked the new Slovak owners. "We weren't able to place our team in the [annual] European Cup this year due to a lack of money, and the Slovak investment will help us very much, " Štěnička said.
As Šulc concluded, "actually, in the current poor economic situation of Czech sports, we should thank God for the Slovaks."