Historic grounds to benefit from sale to Czech Football Association
It is the relic of a bygone era, but now the aging Strahov complex appears set for something of a facelift. The complex’s owner, the Czech Sports Association (ČSTV), has agreed to sell two stadiums and various other facilities to the Czech Football Association (FAČR) after ČSTV members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the sale at their general meeting Dec. 1.
Under the agreement, the FAČR will pay almost 129 million Kč ($6.7 million/5.1 million euros) for Stadion Evžena Rošického, the Přátelství (Friendship) athletics ground and the Coubertin hotel, as well as some of the surrounding land. Meanwhile, the Czech Athletic Federation will obtain the complex’s inflatable indoor sports hall.
The massive Strahov Stadium, which to this day is the largest stadium in the world, opened in 1926 and has hosted sports rallies and rock concerts for tens of thousands of people.
“We came here with a fair offer, but at the same time, we have taken on the burden of buying the complex and revitalizing it,” said FAČR Chairman Miroslav Pelta. “The investments will have to be massive. We will completely reconstruct the Přátelství athletics ground and then begin work on the Coubertin hotel.”
Maintenance of the huge and dilapidated site, located at the top of Petřín Hill in Prague 6 with the historic Strahov Stadium as its focal point, costs the ČSTV 16 million Kč every year. With the association lacking the funds to invest in renovation projects, Finance Director Pavel Benda told The Prague Post a sale represented the best outcome for the general public.
“These facilities will be rebuilt and modernized, because the FAČR is a strong organization that has the resources available to fund this,” he said. “The whole complex will receive an impetus for development, and it won’t simply fall into the hands of greedy businessmen who have no interest in supporting sports.”
The ČSTV will use the money raised from selling the sites to finance its debt obligations, following the collapse of lottery company Sazka last year (the ČSTV was a 68 percent shareholder), while members also tabled a motion to look for buyers for the loss-making Brandýs nad Labem sports center in central Bohemia. However, Benda says it is premature to discuss other possible sales.
“We are evaluating all of our properties, and will keep the most profitable ones,” he said. “The sale of the nonprofitable ones will be considered on a case-by-case basis. We still have a responsibility to our members to offer services at the grass-roots level of sports.”
As of next spring, the FAČR intends to start building its new headquarters on land at the Přátelství athletics ground. The project is set to benefit from a 152 million Kč grant provided by football’s world governing body, FIFA, which will donate $800,000, and its European counterpart, UEFA, which will give 5.5 million euros.
A historical legacy
Reminiscent of a Roman amphitheater, Strahov Stadium was commissioned by the founder of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, in 1926. Leading up to World War II, the mammoth arena played host to the nationalist Sokol rallies, with tens of thousands of people taking part in displays of gymnastics and physical exercise.
After the war, Sokol was disbanded by the communists and its rallies replaced with the Spartakiads, weeklong festivals held every five years to replicate a similar Soviet event. The communists enlarged the stadium to seat 220,000 people, making it the world’s biggest. And while the mass of space inside Strahov has never been filled to the same extent as it was back then, the stadium has since welcomed rock acts including The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, who put on concerts for more than 100,000 fans.
Today the ground is rented by Sparta Praha as a training center for its teams, but the FAČR’s purchases have also sparked rumors of a new national stadium on the site, despite similar projects having been shelved previously due to economic problems and resistance from groups opposed to tearing down Strahov Stadium. Given this sensitivity, it is likely any new arena would have to be constructed at Stadion Evžena Rošického.
The last proposal to fail, championed by then-FAČR Chairman Jan Obst in 2003, envisioned a modern 52,000-seater stadium on the land at Evžena Rošického, while Strahov Stadium would have been converted into a commercial zone boasting hotels, restaurants and shops. However, City Hall, owner of nine-tenths of the complex’s land, eventually decided to scrap the project, citing issues with the site’s historical legacy.
Despite these apparent obstacles, a memorandum between the FAČR and Prague 6 Council, outlining plans for a 3 billion Kč project to develop the sites at Strahov, was signed in February this year. The memorandum sets out four phases of development, including one for a new national stadium, although any construction must cater to sporting activities only. Pelta admits future proposals will be complicated.
“We need to work out all of the conditions, but at the moment it is too early to say whether we will build a new national stadium at Strahov,” he said. “We will enter into intensive negotiations with City Hall. There’s the possibility of exchanging properties, but we would have to talk about it first.”