Sábliková’s success reopens debate on building of special speed skating arena

Martina Sábliková, foto: ČTK

The historic success of Martina Sábliková at the Winter Olympics has revived a debate on whether a dedicated speed skating arena should be built in the Czech Republic. The mayor of the town where Sábliková lives says a backer may soon be found for such a hall, which the state would have to maintain. But some say that would waste public money on an extremely marginal sport.

Martina Sábliková,  foto: ČTK
Martina Sábliková’s spectacular achievements at the Vancouver Winter Olympics have brought the state of speed skating in the Czech Republic back to the focus of national attention.

To date, there are no training facilities for speed skaters in the country, one of the factors that made Sábliková’s double gold at the Olympics all the more remarkable. But this situation could change within a few years.

Backed by an unnamed private investor, Sábliková’s home town of Velký Osek, some 70 km from Prague, could soon see the construction of a dedicated speed skating hall. Jiří Otta is the town’s mayor.

“We are doing everything we can to have such an arena built here, and I believe that we’ll be able to sign the contract for the construction in April. It should be finished by 2013.”

Otta says the private backer is willing to cover the cost of the construction, which would amount to CZK 1.5 billion, or nearly USD 80 million. But the maintenance of the speed skating hall would have to be paid for out of the state budget.

“It’s a building that would serve the public. That’s also one of the reasons that the investor is going into it, he doesn’t want to get rich off of the building. This arena would serve the public, and benefit our citizens, but he can’t cover the maintenance. So that will have to be covered by the Czech speed skating association.”

Plans for the hall also include two hockey rinks and a concrete skating rank that could be used by local in-line skaters. But the arena would mainly serve the Czech Republic’s competitive speed skaters, of whom there are extremely few. This has led some to argue it would be cheaper for the state to simply pay for Martina Sábliková and her colleagues to train abroad. Velký Osek mayor Jiří Otta rejects this suggestion.

“This hall isn’t being built for Martina Sábliková, of course she can train abroad, that’s the biggest misconception that people seem to have. This arena is being built to bring speed skating back from its exile to the Czech Republic, so that people can train here. We will have to start with children of course, but we want to build a new base for this wonderful sport.”

The name of the private investor who could possibly make that dream real by funding the arena’s construction will not be disclosed until next month, says Otta. But he says he is confident that building work will begin this year.