The most popular sports in Czechia are football and ice hockey, tennis, volley-ball and kickball (an original Czech sport in which the players kick the ball over a low net). Czech sportsmen achieved significant successes in many sports disciplines.
The greatest credit for the development of sport in Czechia has the Sokol ("falcon" in English) organisation. Although the main goal of Sokol was to promote national health and sports, it played a key role in the national resistance to the Austrian Empire and the Nazi occupation of Czechia. Soon after it was founded in 1862, colourful gymnastics rallies (mass exercises and events called Slet) were held regularly in Prague until the German occupation in 1938. In 1930's, Sokol associated over 630,000 members. The Communist regime also banned the organisation after its 1948 rally, but Sokol continued to exist abroad. Presently, the organization focuses on physical training in gymnastics and other athletics. Its popularity is, however, well below pre-war levels and a large percentage of members are older people with memories of the pre-1948 Sokol movement.
Sports in Czechia
Football is the most popular sport in Czechia. The Czech Football Association (Český svaz footballový, ČSF), founded on October 19, 1901, was an independent organisation which was not in any way subordinated to the Austrian Football Union, however, at the time, Czechia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire monarchy. It became member of FIFA in 1906. In 1908, FIFA Congress – acting at the instigation of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, stopped membership of ČSF, but in 1920 (as Czechoslovakia) became a member again.
The Czech Football Association has run the country's top league, the 1st league, since 1925. The most popular clubs and implacable rivals, SK Slavia Praha (founded 1892) and AC Sparta Praha (founded 1893) belonged in interwar period to the best continental football clubs, being remarkably successful in both domestic and European contests. Even, Slavia was considered the best club of the European continent from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries until the outbreak of the First World War (beat Bayern Munich 13-0, Rapid Vienna 14-1, Netherlands national team 8-0, etc.), being simultaneously one of the few clubs, which were able to beat the professionals from the British Isles (Southampton FC 4-0, Celtic Glasgow FC 6-4, etc.). Slavia remained undefeated by a domestic rival from 1897 until 1909.
In the interwar period, winning this trophy twice — in 1927 and 1935, Sparta belonged to the most successful clubs in the continental predecessor of the Champions Cup called the Central European Cup (Mitropa Cup). Slavia acquired the cup in 1938 by defeating the Hungarian Ferencváros in the finals with a score of 2-2 (Prague) and 2-0 (Budapest).
In 1950's, another team from Prague, who later achieved success in the international field, appears on the scene of Czech football. It was Dukla Praha, when participated twice semifinals of the European Champions Cup in 1960's and became popular in America, where won four times in the row the International Soccer League (called also America Cup) in New York and several times successsfully participated in tournaments of the elite clubs in Latin America as a representant of the European football. The best result of the Czech club in European cups after dissolution of Czechoslovakia is semifinal participation of SK Slavia Praha in the UEFA Cup in the season 1995 / 1996.
SK Slavia in 1899 and legendary scorer Jan Košek (in the corner)
Sparta-Slavia in 1932 / the most popular derby match
AC Sparta Praha - Central European Cup winner 1935 (photo from quarterfinals against AC Fiorentina in Prague)
Ladislav Novák, captain of Dukla Praha with America Cup (1963)
The Czechoslovak national team finished twice as the runner-up of the World Cups - in 1934 and 1962.
In 1934, the Czechoslovaks lost the finals against the Italian home team in overtime with a score of 1-2. Suspected then, later it was proven that the Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, then under the direct orders of the Italian fascist leader Mussolini, had manipulated the score to benefit Italy. In view of the proofs obtained in the 1995 FIFA investigation, the proposal to retroactively handle the World Champion’s title to Czechoslovakia was rejected “not to trigger an avalanche of supplementary revisions.”
In the FIFA World Cup held in Chile in 1962, after the victories in the quarter-finals over Hungary (1-0) and the semi-finals over Yugoslavia (3-1), the Czechoslovak national team lost the final match against Brazil with a score of 1-3.
Team Czechoslovakia became the winner of European championships in 1976 in Beograd beating Germany 3-2 in the shootout with the famous tricky winning penalty of Antonín Panenka (this trick is called now after him - "Panenka penalty") and winner of Olympic gold medals in 1980 by defeating the German Democratic Republic 1-0 in finals. Czechia (official successor of Czechoslovakia) narrowly lost to Germany in the finals (1-2 in overtime) of 1996's European championships held in England and placed third on Euro 2004 in Portugal.
Besides above mentioned successes, to the most valuabale victories belong the wins over team England 2-1 in 1934, that time incomparably the best national football team in the world, following world champions Brazil in Rio de Janeiro 1-0 in 1956, gold medals of UEFA European Under-23 Championship in 1972 or gold medals in UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2002.
What cannot be forgotten: the victory of amateur team Czechia (that time as Bohemia) of UIAF Tournament in 1911 in Roubaix, France - considered to be the first European championship ever - beating England 2-1 in final under the legendary Scottish coach John Madden, also the trainer of SK Slavia for many years.
From top left to bottom right: (1) Team Czechoslovakia before World Cup final against Italy in 1934; (2) team Czechoslovakia before finals in 1962; (3) Antonín Puč scores (1-0) in 1934 final against Italy; (4) Josef Masopust scores (1-0) against Brazil in final 1962.
Antonín Panenka's famous winning penalty kick in final of European Champiosnhip 1976 against Germany
To the most famous Czech footballers belong exceptional goalscorer of the period before World War I Jan Košek, one of the best world goalkeepers of interwar period František Plánička, the greatest goalscorer of football history in Europe (and probably in whole world) Josef Bican, midfielders Josef Masopust and Pavel Nedvěd (both of them European footballers of the year ("Golden ball" holders) in 1962, resp. 2003, top scorers of national team Jan Koller and Antonín Puč, the top world goalkeepers of their times Ivo Viktor and Petr Čech, and other unforgettable players such as Václav Pilát, Antonín Janda, Ladislav Ženíšek, Karel Pešek, František Svoboda, Oldřich Nejedlý, Ladislav Novák, Svatopluk Pluskal, Václav Mašek, Antonín Panenka, Zdeněk Nehoda, František Veselý, Tomáš Skuhravý, Karel Poborský, Milan Baroš, Vladimír Šmicer, Tomáš Rosický and more.
Josef Bican, Europe's most prolific scorer ever
Team Czechia - European Championship 2004
For years Czechoslovakia, later Czechia National ice hockey teams have ranked among the top five or six national teams in the world (International Ice Hockey Federation recognizes Bohemia, which joined in 1908, and Czechoslovakia as the predecessors to Czechia, which officially became a member in 1993).
Beginnings of ice hockey in Czechia at the turn 19th century were special. It was originally a hugely different sport there, knowing as "bandy hokej", in which skaters struck the ball with a golf-like swing, sending it bouncing down the ice. Carrying the puck as if were glued to the stick and firing only on approaching the net, which was something Czechs learned from a visiting Canadian violinist Anderson. Slowly but surely the new game caught on and in 1911 Czechs clinched their first European title.
Modern times had arrived in the beginning of 1930s with the opening of the new Štvanice stadium in Prague, first one, which was independent from of the vagaries of the weather. First World championship was held in Prague in 1933. Czechoslovakia won several European champions titles and acquired medals in the World Championships but the significant successes came in 1947, after the World War II, when the national team won its first World Champion title.
Overall, the national ice hockey team have won the World Hockey Championships 12 times (1947 in Prague, 1949 in Stockholm, 1972 in Prague, 1976 in Katowice, 1977 in Vienna, 1985 in Prague as Czechoslovakia and recent 6 titles as Czechia - 1996 in Vienna, three wins in the row in 1999 in Norway, 2000 in Sankt Petersburg and 2001 in Germany, 2005 in Austria and the last title in 2010 in Germany). In 2000 and 2001 team Czechia won the IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championships, commonly known as the World Juniors, an annual event for national under-20 ice hockey teams from around the world.
The national team achieved Olympic Games Gold one time, 5 times reached final match and silver medals and 5 times bronze. The victory came after 78 years of participation in 1998 in Nagano in Japan, first ice hockey Olympic Games, at the top tournament with participation of the best professional players from Canada and USA, called the "Tournament of the Century".
Besides the above-mentioned titles, an important success was the 2nd place in the 1976 Canada Cup, the first tournament in the hockey history with the participation of the best professional national teams of Canada and USA. To the most valuable victorious games of team Czechia or Czechoslovakia (besides final wins of World Championships and Olympic Games) belong the first historical victory over Canada in 1949 (3-2), 1-0 win over star team Canada at Canada Cup on 1976 and 2-1 in Olympic Games in Japan. Another famous and unforgettable victories are wins over USSR in 1969 World Championship in Sweden (2-0 and 4-3), when ice hockey became a political issue - as nothing in sports ever - after the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Those games became the two most emotional hockey battles in the history of this sport.
The most famous Czech ice hockey player is still active forward (right wing) Jaromír Jágr (main background picture), the best European player in National Hockey League of all times, ranking second in points, third in goal scores, and first in the number of game-winning goals in all history of NHL. He was awarded 5 times by Art Ross Trophy for the player with the most scoring points at the end of the regular season, three times by Ted Lindsay Award for the most outstanding player in the regular season and in 2015/16 season also became the oldest player in League history to reach 60 points in a season. Simultaneously, he is the member (together with the defenseman Jiří Šlégr) of so called Triple Gold Club (players who have won Olympic Games gold medal, a World Championship gold medal, and the Stanley Cup, the championship trophy of the National Hockey League).
Another world famous player is the goaltender Dominik Hašek (active 1980-2011) with an acrobatic unorthodox style, ranked 1st in NHL as the highest career save percentage (.922) and the most (70) saves in a game without allowing a goal. He is 6 times holder of the Vezina Trophy, the award for the best goalie in the league. He is the member of NHL Hall of Fame.
To the other great players belong goalkeepers Bohumil Modrý, considered the best European goalkeeper of his times (1930s - end of 1940s) and Jiří Holeček, a goalie with original gymnastic style, defensemen Karel Gut (later succesful coach of National team), Oldřich Machač, Jan Suchý, Petr Svoboda, Tomáš Kaberle, Jaroslav Špaček, forwards Vladimír Zábrodský, Stanislav Konopásek, Václav Nedomanský, brothers Jiří and Jaroslav Holík, Vladimír Martinec, the best scorer of the Czech (Czechoslovak) League Milan Nový, later also very succesful coaches of National team Ivan Hlinka and Vladimír Růžička, Petr Nedvěd, Martin Straka, NHL's top goalscorer in the season 2002/3 Milan Hejduk, Patrik Eliáš, Václav Prospal, Robert Holík, Robert Reichel, Martin Ručinský, and more. Already for a long time, Czech ice hockey suffers from a mass exodus of its best players to foreign leagues, especially to the National Hockey League.
Team Czechoslovakia - World Champion 1949
1949 World Championship: final: Czechoslovakia - Sweden 3-0
Robert Reichel's winning goal in shoot-out of semifinals
Czechia v.Canada 2-1 at Olympic Games 1998
Jaroslav Holík scores to make 3-2 against USSR. This goal assured the title of World Champion for Czechoslovakia in 1972.
Golden decider of Martin Procházka to 3-2 in the final of World Championship 1996 Czechia v.Canada in Vienna (4-2)
Team Czechia - Olympic Games 1998 (Nagano, Japan) Gold medal winner
Dominik Hašek (Detroit Red Wings)
with Stanley Cup 2002
Jaromír Jágr (Pittsburgh Penguins) against Dominik Hašek
(Buffalo Sabres) in 1994
Josef Černý celebrates his goal in Soviet net to 2-0 in the
first of memorable games on 1969 World Championship
From the second final game of Canada Cup 1976 between Canada and Czechoslovakia (5-4 in overtime)
Team Czechoslovakia - World Champion 1985 and Ivan Hlinka, captain of national team and its famous coach later
Jiiří Dopita scores in final Czechia v.Finland on WCH 2001 in Germany
Team Czechia - World Champion 2010
Czech athletes have made a great impression on track and field competitions. The most famous from them is Emil Zátopek, long-distance runner, best known for winning three gold medals at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and one gold at 1948 Olympics in London. He won gold in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres runs, but his final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the first marathon of his life (!). He is the only person to win the 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres, and marathon in the same Olympics. "Human locomotive" or "Czech Locomotive" and also "Runner of the Will" as he was nicknamen is considered by some experts the greatest runner of all time.
The most famous Czech female track and field athlete is Jarmila Kratochvílová, winner on the 400 metres and 800 metres at the 1983 World Championships (the same year awarded by the United Press the International Athlete of the Year), setting a world record in the 400 m and also the world record for the 800 metre in 1983, which is still in forced and it is currently the longest-standing individual world record in athletics.
Two faces of Emil Zátopek. The experssion of pain, very typical for him on the left and famous, for many people very surprising smile at the finish of marathon run in 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games on the right side
Javelin throwers, multiple titles holders, World champions and Olympic Gold medals winners Jan Železný and Barbora Špotáková are ranked the best in the world of all time, keeping world records in this discipline (Železný since 1996, Špotáková since 2008). Another Czech Olympic winner is Dana Zátopková (1952) and the tradition of this discipline confirmed Vítězslav Veselý, who became World champion in 2013.
Also decathlon is very succesfull discipline for Czechia, which is ranked 2nd in the world of all time with personalities of World and Olympic champions Roman Šebrle (olympic record holder since 2004) and Tomáš Dvořák, both ranked among three best decathlon athletes of all time. Another Czech Olympic dwinner is Robert Změlík (1992 in Barcelona).
To the other most known Czech athlets belong World champions or Olympic Games winners, discus-throwers Ludík Daněk, Imrich Bugár and Olga Fikotová, the shot-putters Helena Fibingeroví and Remigius Machura, high jumper Miloslava Rezková, triple jumper Šárka Kašpárková, 800 meters track runner Ludmila Formanová, double World Champion in 400 metres hurdles Zuzana Hejnová, modern pentathlon Olympic winner and World Champion David Svoboda, and others are among the most famous Czech athletes.
Jan Železný, multiple World champion and record holder
Barbora Špotáková, multiple World champion and record holder
Decathlonist Roman Šebrle celebrates his Gold medal
in Athens 2004
Tomáš Dvořák, multiple World champion in decathlon
David Svoboda - Olympic winner and World champion
in modern pentathlon
Zuzana Hejnová in winning run on Beijing
Gymnastics in Czechia are conjoined with the name of Věra Čáslavská, the multiple Olympic medal winner, who became one of the most famous personalities in Czech sports and also played an important role in the international Olympic movement. Attractive, cheerful and possessing impressive stage presence, she was generally popular with the public and won a total of 22 international titles including seven Olympic gold medals, all in individual events, which is an all-time record among female Olympians. She is also the only gymnast, male or female, ever who has won Olympic gold on every individual event (all-around, vault, uneven bars, beam, floor exercise for women). Between 1964 and 1968 Čáslavská was undefeated in the all-around in major international competition; to date, she is the only female gymnast ever to win every Olympic, World and European Championships all-around title from one Olympiad to the next. She was the most successful athlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics, winning the 1968 Olympic All-Around title with the highest recorded score up to that time. Her win by 1.4 points remains the largest winning margin in women Olympics, World, World Cup or European Championships in All-Around competition.
Czech tennis players have been remarkably successful in international competitions. One of them, Martina Navrátilová, is arguably the best female tennis player of all time, however she represented United States for the majority of her career as a refugee from communist Czechoslovakia. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women's doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles. She won the women's singles title at Wimbledon a record nine times including a run of six consecutive titles – the best performance by any professional player at a major event.
Many other male and female tennis players have appeared in the top 100 rankings of international tennis including Jaroslav Drobný, Jan Kodeš, Petra Kvitová (all of them winners of Wimbledon championship), Ivan Lendl, Petr Korda, Tomáš Berdych, Radek Štěpánek and more with many singles championships and tournaments wins. Team Czechia is very succesful in non-official world chamionships of tennis national teams, both in male Davis Cup (won 3 times, last win in 2013, when national team retained the trophy from 2012) and female Fed Cup (won 9 times, last win 2015). Czech tennis players achieved also a lot of Grand Slam wins in doubles.
In the history of Olympic Games and World Championships, water sports are very succesful for Czechia in "on the water" disciplines, above in canoeing (canoeing, kayaking and whitewater slalom), with 11 gold medals from Olympic games and exceptional results in canoe slalom World Championships, where Czechoslovakia is ranked third and Czechia (successor since 1993) 6th in the history of this sport, achieving 57 gold medals in total. To the most famous Czech personalities belong slalom canoer Štepánka Hilgertová, double Olympic winner and multiple (sevenfold) World champion and sprint canoer Martin Doktor, double Olympic winner and World Champion (1997 and 1998).
In rowing, Czech athlets won 6 gold medals on World Chamionships, all in skiffing. The most succesful were Ondřej Synek, quadruple World Champion and Miroslava Knapková, double World Champion in single scull and the winner in the same discipline at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Štěpánka Hilgertová - Olympic winner and World champion in kayak slalom
Martin Doktor, sprint canoe champion
Skiing is very popular in Czechia, both Nordic and Alpine. Recently, snowboarding has become very favoured. First Czech winner of Olympic games in Alpine skiing is Aleš Valenta, freestyle skier, participating in aerials. He won the Winter Olympics gold medal in 2002 in the freestyle aerials competition where he succeeded to perform the first triple back flip with five twists in the world. In 2007 Šárka Záhrobská became World champion in slalom skiing in Sweden. In 2014, Eva Samková became Olympic champion in snowboard cross.
In Nordic disciplines, the most famous athlete is cross-country skier Kateřina Neumannová, winning gold medal at Olympic games in 2006 in the 30 km women freestyle event and double World champion in 10 km event. The famous Czech school of ski-jumpers brought up successes of Olympic winner Jiří Raška and World Champion Jří Parma. Recently, Czech biathlon has becoming succesful both in men and women.
The most famous Czech figure skaters are Alena "Aja" Vrzáňová, winning two titles of World champion in individuals in 1949 and 1950 and siblings Eva and Pavel Romans with 4 World titles from 1962 to 1965 in duos ice dancing discipline.
Speed skating has become famous in Czechia - the country without speed skating rinks with artificial ice (!) - with the entry of Martina Sáblíková on the scene. She is specializing in long distance races. Martina is multiple Olympic gold medals winner (2010 and 2014) and a multiple World allround (16 gold medals) and European champion (5 times). She became the first Czech to win two Olympic gold medals at one Winter Games. She became the most succesful Czech athlete in winter sports except ice-hockey of all time.
Jiří Raška - Olympic winner in ski jump 1968
Kateřina Neumannová, cross-country ski Olympic winner and World champion
Czech shooting sports are also succesful Olympic discipline with Gold medal winners Jan Kůrka, Miroslav Varga (both 50 metre rifle prone), Kateřina Emmons (women's 10 metre air rifle), Josef Panáček (skeet shooting), Petr Hrdlička and David Kostelecký (both trap shooting) became.
In Olympic team sports (exept already above mentioned football and ice-hockey) Czechia or Czechoslovakia has not matched any gold success at the games, but achieved several titles of World champions in men volleyball in 1956 and 1966. In handball, team Czechoslovakia achieved gold on World Championship in 1967 in men and in 1957 in women. Basketball has remained without any gold medal from World Cup with one silver and one bronze medal in women's tournaments.
In cycling excell Czech cyclo-cross bikers with four titles of World champions in professionals, three of which gained by Zdeněk Štybar. Czechia also has Olympic gold medal in mountain bike cross-country won by Jaroslav Kulhavý in 2012. The most succesful is the history of cycle ball. In this sport, Czech national team won already 25 titles of World Champions. The best couple of cycle ball players ever are Pospíšil brothers (Jan and Jindřich) with 20 titles of World Champions between 1965 and 1988, which success has no parallel in other sports in the world.
Czechia has been very succesful in non-olympic team sports, above all in above mentioned popular kick-ball, with multiple World Champions titles, hockey-ball, in-line hockey and new sport of Canadian origin, called kin-ball.
Kateřina Emmons-Kůrková, Olympic winner in air rifle
David Kostelecky, Olympic winner in trap shooting
Zdeněk Štybar celebrates his 3rd World champion title
Pospíšil brothers - World Champions in cycle ball 20 times
PR & CC by
Jan Suchý scores to make it 1-0 against Soviets in the
first of memorable games, when Czechoslovakia beat USSR on 1969 World Championship in Sweden 2-0
Antonín Panenka's famous winning penalty kick in final of European Champiosnhip 1976 against Germany
Petr Svoboda's winning goal of the final Czechia v.Russia
(1-0) at Olympic Games in Nagano 1998
3 Flips & 5 Twist Aerial Wins Gold For Aleš Valenta - Olympic Record in Winter Games 2002 in Salt Lake City
As is typical for contemporary Czech state, thus, having constant problems with the name at all levels of social life (this issue is described from both general and special points of view in "Articles" section of this web), also sport institutions in Czechia suffer from terminological disunity. As an example, can be mentioned the name of the Czech Football Association. While the original designation “Czech Football Association” was good enough, in 1993, after the dissolution of the Czech and the Slovak conjoined state, at first, it was absurdly renamed as to the Bohemian-Moravian F.A. and later, nonsensically using a political name, to the Football Association of the Czech Republic.