Jiri Slegr

Political parties look to athletes

in Sports by

Prague, Kladno and Brno see ex-sports stars on election lists

A shakeup in Czech political parties beginning with May’s general elections has resulted in an influx of former sports stars entering the political arena in the lead-up to fall local elections.

Former international hockey goalie and now Sparta Praha hockey club’s General Manager Petr Bříza will try to make it onto Prague City Council in October as a candidate for the Civic Democrats (ODS). His name is even being mentioned as a potential mayor.

“Working as the general manager at Sparta keeps me under public pressure, as well,” Bříza said. “I don’t think my move to politics would represent such a dramatic change.”

Bříza’s former opponent on the ice, HC Kladno defenseman Jan Kruliš, will be running his candidacy for the mayor of the central Bohemian city of Kladno. Kruliš is a candidate for TOP 09.

“I’ve spent my entire hockey career in Kladno,” Kruliš said. “I know what the city is about and what people struggle with.”

Meanwhile, long-time HC Plzeň defenseman Josef Řezníček, who now works as an agent for players, will run for mayor of Plzeň with the small party, Občané.cz.

“I know my chance of getting elected is low. Still, I’d like to support this party,” Rezníček said, before quickly adding that he did not intend to take up politics as a full-time job.

Political parties regularly look for support from popular hockey players. Hockey hero Jaromír Jágr, the most successful Czech in NHL history, who now plays for Avantgard Omsk in Russia, is a long-time supporter of ODS.

ODS’s main rival, the Social Democrats (ČSSD), have received similar support from Czech National Team Head Coach Vladimír Růžička. And the country’s leading left-wing party even made former NHL veteran Jiří Šlégr a deputy in Parliament.

And, indeed, the traffic goes both directions between the political and sports worlds. Brno Mayor Roman Onderka (ČSSD) announced he has joined the management of Kometa Brno.

“The city of Brno funds our hockey club. This is the way the mayor can control how the money is used,” said Libor Zábranský, the club’s director.

In early June, Kometa received 10 million Kč from the city coffers.

But the move did not go unnoticed by political opponents and has already become a part of campaigning.

“The mayor merely wants to demonstrate before the elections that he’s got close ties with Brno hockey,” said Libor Šťástka, an ODS member of the Brno City Council. “In fact, he hasn’t done much for the organization over the past four years.”

Onderka will actually face off against a former athlete in the October election, former world champion triple jumper Šárka Kašpárková. She will run in Brno for the coalition of political parties Suverenita and Nezávislí demokraté.

“I was hesitating for long time about whether I should get involved,” Kašpárková said. “Politicians’ horrible behavior and way of acting made me go for it. We need some change.”

Klaus backs tourney

President Václav Klaus is appearing in TV commercials promoting the Women’s World Basketball Championship that will take place in the Czech Republic in late September and early October.

In a clip featuring other celebrities like supermodel Karolína Kurková and surgeon Jan Pirk, Klaus catches a basketball and says, “After 43 years, the Women’s World Basketball Championships will be hosted here. Come and see.” The clip was contracted by Czech Basketball Federation. In the 1960s, Klaus played the top division of the Czechoslovak basketball league with Prague teams Orbis and Sokol Vyšehrad.

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