Czech women will not take the field at Women’s World Cup, but ambitious for 2025 Euros

Kateřina Svitková (left, Nr. 10) and Andrea Stašková (Nr. 9) during a women's soccer preparatory match (Czech Republic - Slovakia, July 14, 2023 in Opava)

The 2023 Women’s World Cup kicked off Thursday in host countries New Zealand and Australia. But the Czech women’s team will not be dressing for the country, unable to qualify for this year’s international tournament. To get a sense of where the team stands and their hopes for qualifying for the next major tournament, we spoke with sports commentator Jiří Hošek.

Jiří Hošek | Photo: Archive of Jiří Hošek

“I think they were really desperately unlucky when they tried to qualify for the last major tournament, the Euros. They stumbled on the last hurdle and it was an absolutely heartbreaking story.

“I think the quality of the women’s game in Czechia has been on the rise undoubtedly, which goes hand in hand with the fact that female players from Czechia have joined the top international clubs. For instance, the top Czech female player Kateřina Svitková who was playing for West Ham United, now joining Chelsea which is one of the strongest female clubs in the world.

“Goalie Barbora Votíková who has been playing for Paris Saint-Germain. Striker Andrea Stašková has been playing for Juventus in Italy, then Atlético de Madrid. So this helped the national team improve dramatically.

“But if I was going to name one reason which has been a major obstacle, it is the quality of domestic competition, where you have two strong teams, Sparta and Slavia, just like in the men’s game, and behind them is a massive gap.

“Of course, if you compare it to the likes of the United States, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand, grassroots women’s football was non-existent ten years ago, and that has a lot to do with girls not playing football during PE classes at school. The situation in this respect is improving, but way too slowly.”

Where do you think this gap is coming from? Is there a societal perception that women aren’t as interested in the game? Are women not getting the same training opportunities and funding as the men?

“I would fully agree on all the factors you mention, and I would also add lack of media interest. This is closely linked with a lack of pressure from society, but I think this is changing. I think the fact that the current Women’s World Cup will be broadcast by both Czech TV and Nova means that Czech viewers will be able to watch every single game of the women’s World Cup live, and this is a major breakthrough.”

Other women’s teams like Canada and the United States have put a lot of pressure on society and government to leverage pay equity, do you see a similar shift in Czechia, and are the women putting this pressure on too?

“In that respect, we are maybe 20 years behind and I don’t see this pressure at all. In Czechia, the top female players, professionals playing for Slavia and Sparta, in most cases need another job to make a decent living. This is completely incomparable with the men’s game, where even a substitute in the second division can make a decent living.

Photo: GDJ,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“So in that respect there is still a massive gap, and I don’t see this pressure coming. But I think this has a lot to do with cultural heritage and slightly different views in Central Europe on gender equality.”

That’s an immense amount of pressure, having to balance making a living for yourself and also training as a professional athlete who plays for their country. How can you achieve that level of professionalism if you’re balancing both those things?

“Absolutely, and I also think we need women who retire from professional football to stay in the business - become coaches, managers, and so on. Also, much more needs to be done by the Czech Football Association.”

What are tangible steps the Football Association in Czechia could be taking to improve the game for women?

“I think we need role models, and this has a lot to do with the government strategy to support grassroots sports, not only football. There needs to be more subsidies and programs, and also a sufficient number of football pitches, not of the supreme quality, but where people who live in either urban or rural areas can go and kick the ball. This is where it all starts.”

Football Association of the Czech Republic  (FAČR) | Photo: Radio Prague International

What are the ambitions for the Czech women’s team to qualify for the next Women’s World Cup? How is the team feeling in terms of their motivation and ambition for the next big tournament?

“I think there is quite a bit of optimism that Czechia can make it to the next Euro Cup. I think the key to qualify for the World Cup is still a bit too ambitious, but the qualification for the Euros has been lowered a bit. So if the Czech women fare well in the next round of League of Nations, they could be in a much better qualification pot to decide their opponents for the Euro qualifiers.

“So there is optimism, but at the same time there is a small generational change in the national team, with plenty of younger women coming through the ranks. Whether this chemistry will gel between the younger generation and the older generation, only time will tell.”