WANT TO root for the Slovaks at next year’s football World Cup? Lucky for you, the main chants of fans are not too difficult to learn, even for a tongue-twisted foreigner. There is “Slovenskooooo! Slovenskooooo!” and the somewhat more creative “Slovenskooooo, Slovenskooooo, hea-yaa, hea-yaa, hea-yaa Slovensko”, and finally, to the delight of the national team’s main sponsor from the automotive industry, “Kia – kia – Slo – va – kia!”
Despite the fact that football is the country’s most popular sport, the country has never made it to the world or European Championships. The last time Slovaks played at the World Cup was in 1990 as part of the Czechoslovak team. And so it’s always been up to the hockey team to represent the country. After the split of Czechoslovakia the Czechs remained in the top hockey pool, whereas Slovakia had to work its way up from the lowest one. Slovaks joined the elite in 1996 and six years later won the world hockey championships, an enormous boost for a country which usually triumphs only in individual sports such as tennis (Hantuchová, Hrbatý), canoeing (Martikán), shooting (Gőnci), or swimming (Moravcová).
However, even hockey is not really a global phenomenon. The championships are always a contest between the “big six” – Sweden, Canada, the Czech Republic, Russia, Finland, and the United States – plus Slovakia and the former Soviet republics. In addition, the prestige of the event is lessened by the fact that it takes place annually, not once in four years like the football World Cup or the Olympics, and the best NHL players never attend, as the play-offs are still just taking-off in late April, when the championship starts.
Football is a different matter altogether. With the exception of the US, it is the number one sport in most of the Western world and in South America and it attracts enormous attention. But international attention (which we will have to share with Slovenia whether they, too, make it to South Africa or not given our similar names and almost identical flags) is not the only benefit the country will gain. It will help business – advertisers are already storming newspapers with requests for ads on sports pages, travel agencies are booking first flights to Johannesburg, and Slovak football jerseys are certain to be a Christmas hit. But perhaps most of all, it will boost morale. Even people with no strong national feeling will surely love to find a Hamšík, Škrtel, or Mucha shirt under the Christmas tree.
In a country, where the patriotic feeling and agenda has been hijacked by crazy extremists, it is a good thing. In order to function properly, any society needs glue which helps it to stick together. Without a healthy sense of unity and common purpose it becomes difficult to combat corruption, cronyism, disregard for the law and ethics, as well as other expressions of selfishness in public life. Yes, the football success will be exploited by the current government and the dysfunctional football association. And yes, it is only sport. But the consequences of Slovakia’s football success can be far reaching. It opens a chance for a better Slovenskooooo.