Czech Olympic Committee embroiled in political battle, human rights debate

Czech sportsmen depart from Prague, photo: CTK

A large part of the Czech squad for the Winter Olympics in Sochi departed from Prague today. But local Olympics bosses are embroiled at home in political and ongoing human rights disputes.

Czech sportsmen depart from Prague,  photo: CTK
The first contingent of Czechs with their eyes on Olympic medals or just personal bests headed out from Prague for the around five hour flight to Sochi, Russia, on Thursday morning.

The contingent of 27 sportsmen and women included Czech medal hopes such as speed skater Martina Sáblíková, who won two gold medals at the last games in Vancouver, snow boarder Šarka Pančochová, and biathlon hope Gabriela Soukalová.

But while the 88 strong squad make their way to the Winter Olympics starting in just over a week’s time, the local Czech Olympic Committee has found itself fighting a battle on both political and human rights fronts.

On the first, the theoretically apolitical committee has got itself involved in a battle with the two biggest government parties over whether a Social Democrat politician with a tarnished reputation should fill the post of deputy minister of sport at the Ministry of Education.

Petr Hulinský,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Petr Hulinský has been put forward for the post by his party and backed enthusiastically by the Czech Olympic Committee as the best qualified candidate. He is a member of one of its key committees and has held the post for the last six years.

But ANO leader Andrej Babiš has highlighted Hulinský’s dubious reputation as a fixer and deal maker from his time as a top Social Democrat on Prague City Council.

Both Czech Olympic Committee chairman Jiří Kejval and Babiš were sticking to their guns on Wednesday. The ANO leader said as he took charge of the finance ministry that someone who could give transparent accounts of the billions of crowns spent on sports was needed.

On a more predicable front, the Winter Olympics are also being targeted by a campaign by one of the Czech Republic’s biggest human rights groups, People in Need, to highlight the claimed clampdown on human rights in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.

Video clip by People in Need,  photo: archive of People in Need
A video clip has been released highlighting how the Olympics are being used to showcase the country and ignore other ‘disciplines’ used against protesters, homosexuals, and opposition journalists.

The charity insists that it does not want to detract from Czechs’ sporting efforts but it does want to see human rights raised as an issue by Czech official Olympic visitors and not swept under the carpet.