Slavia Prague avoids relegation to third division


The Czech Football Association has given Slavia Prague a new lease on life, issuing the club a licence on Tuesday to play in the top flight next year. The club, with more than a 100-year history, was in danger of being relegated to the lowly third division over unpaid debts and a lack of ownership transparency. Now the most outstanding questions have been answered and the club will return next season.

In 2009, Slavia Prague won their most recent league title and were arguably on top of the world, but for many months now, the team – struggling both on and off the pitch – was in danger of plummeting to the lowly third division, the end for a professional team.

Outstanding debts and unpaid players’ wages going back to last December were largely part of the problem, as was uncertainty in the club’s ownership. Not long ago the head of the Czech Football Association Ivan Hašek himself said he didn’t know who the owner was. And he was far from alone in being in the dark.

Rostislav Starý, photo: CTK
Now those questions have been answered and they were enough to satisfy the Czech FA. Following negotiations, it was revealed that the Czech investment company Natland had bought a 51-percent stake in the club and would cover Slavia’s outstanding debt. On Tuesday, Natland spokesman Rostislav Starý confirmed the deal, saying the firm had bought the stake from Antonín Franc, a mysterious figure who is widely-considered to be the front man for a controversial business clan. Other notable shareholders include former transport minister Aleš Řebíček and the British company ENIC.

Following crunch-time on Tuesday, the association confirmed that Slavia had met all necessary requirements. Now the club should now be able to focus more again on what’s happening on the pitch rather than off. Stanislav Hrabě covers football for the Czech daily Sport:

“The team can definitely take a breather and can slowly begin focussing again on getting back to top football and into European competition. But it really was a close call and the team was threatened by the worst. It could have gone under and then continued only in the lower divisions. It also could have lost its professional status and would have had to start again as an amateur club. The situation truly was serious.”

Slavia may be one of the most storied clubs but not the only one in the Czech league to have found itself in financial difficulty: Czech TV on Tuesday reported that 2nd division club Viktoria Zižkov, fighting for a chance to advance to the top league, has not paid its players since January, with players being forced to sign forms ‘confirming’ the club owed them nothing. The team’s spokesman, meanwhile, insisted the club was paying off what it owed, slowly but surely.