Prague launches bid for 2016 Olympics with eye to hosting later Games

Photo: CTK

The Czech capital Prague on Tuesday launched its candidature for the 2016 Olympic Games, with a ceremony to sign its official bid. The city has never hosted such a huge sporting event and currently lacks the necessary stadia and other infrastructure. But Prague officials believe they do have a serious chance - if not in 2016, then four or even eight years later.

Flanked by current and past Czech Olympic champions like Roman Sebrle and Dana Zatopkova, Prague mayor Pavel Bem told those assembled at the signing ceremony that hosting the Olympic Games was a great challenge for the city, and the whole of the Czech Republic.

And - faced with competition from the likes Chicago and Tokyo - both would indeed have a great amount to do before being anywhere near ready to put on the world's biggest sporting event. That's something conceded by Petr Hrubec, general secretary of the Czech Olympic Committee - who also advances possible benefits.

Milan Jirasek et Pavel Bem,  photo: CTK
"Prague needs a lot of improvements in infrastructure, in the subway system, in the airport, in highways. We hope that that will help our city and will also be a benefit for our citizens...We hope that not only Prague will hold Olympic events, but also other cities, for instance Ostrava, and other cities will be organising football games and training camps."

Mayor Bem dismisses suggestions the holding the Olympics would be too difficult and expensive. And he is confident Prague will win the right to hold the games - though possibly not at the first attempt.

"I am strongly convinced that Prague will win. I would bet not in 2016, especially considering the fact that the 2012 Olympics will be held in London - it's very unlikely they would keep the Olympics on the European continent. However we will try. I think our chances increase twice or maybe even more for the year 2020. And I'm quite convinced that if we do not succeed in 2020, then we will in 2024."

Dana Zatopkova,  Pavel Bem,  Milan Jirasek,  Jiri Jezek,  photo: CTK
The great Dana Zatopkova took part in four Olympics, winning a gold medal in the javelin in 1952 and silver in 1960. Now 84, she says it's unlikely she will live to see a Games in her home city. But that doesn't dampen her enthusiasm for the idea.

"It's a dream for now, but one that could be made reality. I hope it happens, because I think even though we are a small nation, we have achieved considerable success in sport, relatively speaking."

The final list of candidate cities for 2016 will be made public on September 13, though it will be over two years before the International Olympic Committee announces a winner.