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Sprucing up Slovakia for hockey fans

FOR TWO weeks in May, Slovakia will officially turn into the ‘Hockey Republic’ according to the official campaign now under way to promote the Ice Hockey World Championship.

FOR TWO weeks in May, Slovakia will officially turn into the ‘Hockey Republic’ according to the official campaign now under way to promote the Ice Hockey World Championship.

Each year in spring, most Slovaks turn into enthusiastic fans, cheering on their national team at the championship: ice hockey is perhaps the country’s most popular sport.

In 2011 the excitement will reach a fever pitch since the championship is taking place in Slovakia for the first time. But questions linger about whether the country is fully prepared to host such an event.

The first faceoff will be on April 29 and the competition will continue until the final championship match on May 15. The venues are the wintersport stadiums in Bratislava and Košice but all the Slovak team's matches will be played in Bratislava.

Orange Arena ready

The wintersport stadium in the capital city, now called the Bratislava Orange Arena, completed a major reconstruction only a few weeks ago and now can accommodate 7,200 fans. The final inspection papers authorising use of the stadium were recently signed by the local authorities.

Bratislava mayor Milan Ftáčnik symbolically handed over the keys to the stadium to the organisers of the championship on April 11.

“When we started with the reconstruction of the arena two years ago there were many voices of doubt,” said Igor Nemeček, the head of the Slovak organising committee.

The reconstruction began amid media reports that it was overpriced and following the change in government in 2010 it was not clear whether the state would ante up the remaining funds to finish the work. Now, however, the Bratislava Orange Arena has three rinks and an icemaker that organisers say is the largest in Europe.

Interestingly, the maintenance manager of the stadium, Jozef Brezina, admitted to the Sme daily that there is one small talisman – a coin – under the ice of the main rink where the Slovak team will play all their matches and where the championship game will be held.

Security issues

The championship will require very strict and sophisticated security measures. According to Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic, the Slovak police force is ready for any security challenges that might arise. While visiting the stadium recently, the minister told the media that about 200 police officers have passed specialised training given at the site.

Around 650 police officers and 100 police vehicles from other regions of Slovakia will join the Bratislava and Košice forces during the championship. Police Corps President Jaroslav Spišiak said there will be about 700 police officers on duty in Bratislava every day, and announced that Interpol and Europol had also responded to his invitation and will have officers present in the country.

“The staff of these agencies will have all their databases with them,” Spišiak said, as quoted by the Sme daily, stressing that this will make it easier to detect suspects and unwanted persons who might seek to attend the event.

“We can identify every person who might seem dangerous right at their seat,” Spišiak said.

Sprucing things up for the tourists

Criticism has mounted that foreign fans coming to Bratislava and Košice might be less than impressed by the conditions in the cities when they arrive. Some minor transport improvements in Bratislava, which the city said were costing about €200,000, were being completed on the eve of the championship. They included reconstruction of tram tracks near the main railway station and reconstruction of the underground pedestrian tunnel at Trnavské Mýto, near the Bratislava Orange Arena.

The Bratislava city council, in cooperation with the city's five municipal districts, volunteers and students from local schools, has also initiated a volunteer effort to spruce up many public areas in the city.

In Košice, the city is preparing for the influx of tourists mainly via transport and parking solutions, security measures and information service points. Additional cultural activities will also be organised in the city.

Mayor Richard Raši said that the championship is a kind of dress rehearsal for the city’s forthcoming role as European Capital of Culture in 2013.

“We have a keen interest in making everything work well so that the championship also becomes the best invitation for the events that will be a part of the Košice – European Capital of Culture 2013 project,” Raši told The Slovak Spectator.

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