Former vice-president of the Football Association of the Czech Republic Roman Berbr accused of corruption will continue to be prosecuted. There, the official, who is one of 20 accused in the case of influencing the results of the matches of the second and third football leagues, was sent by the District Court for Prague 6 in October. The case was unleashed in mid-October by police intervention in several places in the country, including the FACR headquarters in Prague. “Berbr acted as a kind of alibi for other people in football. If Berbr or Pelta can do levar and go through it, why can’t anyone else? Thus, the end of their inviolability can serve as an impulse for real change. However, there are three hundred thousand people in football and it is difficult to expect them to behave differently from day to day, “says sports journalist Luděk Mádl, who now works on the Seznamzprávy.cz portal.
It is said that football is a mirror of society. If we agreed to such a saying, what is the state of Czech society now?
Perhaps I would dare to say that Czech society is generally freer, more flourishing, more colorful than the atmosphere in football. There are a lot of people in the football environment who remained in the 1980s, and Roman Berbr is such a personification of such considerations. Football works on the principle that few people have a really clear conscience and everyone was afraid of the other that something would not crack on them. Sometimes it seems to me that it is basically a criminal half-world, a world for itself. People are afraid to talk – when they talk, someone will say something to them. Therefore, to return to the question: Czech society is much better at it than Czech football.
What do we already know about the form of manipulations behind Roman Berbr?
We know what appeared in some way in the communiqué of the High Public Prosecutor’s Office in Prague, and we know what appeared in Lidový noviny. It follows from them that the police engaged in ten matches of Slavoje Vyšehrad, which led to Vyšehrad’s promotion to the second league. The mechanism was relatively simple. The sports director of Vyšehrad was Roman Rogoz, who was close to Berbr. He was also close to Jozef Chovanec, the chairman of the jury. The influence then took place through the referees, who were willing to whistle so that Vyšehrad would score in the matches. So when Rogoz wanted to influence a match, he called Mr. Berbr or Mr. Chovanc to put such referees into the match.
Is such a mechanism generalizable?
Practices haven’t changed much in general over the years, there’s not much to think about. The principle that someone from a football club calls an acquaintance at the association to appoint a referee who can be influenced already worked under Ivan Horník. Anyone who has seen Ivanka’s performance, my friend, knows how such phone calls take place. By the way, Roman Berbr also played a role in influencing matches at that time, although it was more of an episodic role.
Roman Berber’s inviolability has been talked about for years. How is it possible that it ended in connection with the third-league and second-league Vyšehrad, respectively?
Sounds weird. And it is mainly a question for law enforcement agencies why they read about Roman Berber’s practices in the media for several years and have only now intervened. We can only speculate. And there has been speculation, for example, that he is cooperating with the secret services, and in a way it may be based on the past, when he worked for State Security for some time and then, as he claims, for communist intelligence, for which there is no evidence. The reality is that Roman Berbr was very close to the group of referees – and they often work as police officers or customs officers in addition to whistling matches. For many years, Berbr knew before the others that something was going on, and he could arrange himself accordingly.
Roman Berbr resigned from all positions in football. Will the problems that Czech football has with it disappear with it?
It would be naive to think that it would work like a fairy tale in which Lucifer disappears in the form of Roman Berber and everything will suddenly be great. Roman Berbr acted as a kind of alibi for other people in football. If Berbr or Pelta can do levar and go through it, why can’t anyone else? Thus, the end of their inviolability can serve as an impulse for real change. But there are three hundred thousand people in football and it is hard to expect them to behave differently from day to day.
So what is needed for real change?
Any new leadership can certainly set new boundaries, set a new direction in football management. Personnel change at the level of district football associations would also help a lot, as these are the ones who formed the core of Roman Berber’s support.
Unlike Roman Berbr, Martin Malík, chairman of the FACR, remains in office. He is a trustworthy figure after the scandals took place under his leadership?
Everyone had to notice that Roman Berbr was an authoritative man and controlled people with fear. There were such small things as allocating tickets to national team matches or redistributing subsidies at the district level, he knew for sure. Then there is what Roman Berbr is accused of, that is, match manipulation – and I do not assume that Mr Malík knew about it. However, Mr. Malík has political responsibility for Roman Berbr. The reality, however, is that Mr Malík did not choose Roman Berbr as his vice-president, but rather the opposite: Roman Berbr chose Martin Malík as his chairman.
So should he stay in the lead?
I would probably speak differently if he didn’t have less than a year left until the end of his term. If he does not run in May, when the new presidency will be elected, I am willing to accept it.
And there is someone in the Czech Republic who could restore confidence in Czech football from the position of chairman?
I can think of several former players who were not part of the structures of the football association. Among them are, for example, Vladimír Šmicer or Petr Čech with Pavel Nedvěd, who have managerial positions in their clubs. In addition, there is a need for people with experience to work there. Such is Rudolf Řepka, the former secretary of the football association. He said precisely because of his situation in Czech football that he would end up in that position, as he would not be able to look himself in the face if he continued. There would certainly be a number of others, such as Petr Fousek – but it is necessary to remember that even if Jesus Christ presided over Czech football, he would certainly not change anything. As I said: the FACR employs 300,000 people and football must be revived at all levels.
You say that Roman Berbr was more of an episodic character in the case of Ivan Horník. So how did he become the most powerful figure in Czech football?
In the 1990s, he was the first league referee. He then worked in two directions. The first direction was referee’s. There were a number of mentors who trained future judges, and one of the mentors was Roman Berbr. His task was to educate and push new referees to higher leagues. One of his big stars was Dagmar Damková, a pioneer among women as judges. Roman Berbr suspected that she would become more and more popular, that she would not only stay in the Czech environment, but would go to higher structures such as FIFA or UEFA.
And the second direction Roman Berbr focused on?
Powerful. It is important for Czech football that even though it has three hundred thousand members, the electoral system by which officials are elected can describe fifty of them. At the same time, it would be enough to read the statutes. Roman Berbr did just that and found out that half of the delegates who elect the presidency are from the district and regional unions he decided to focus on. For a long time, he toured the individual district unions, where there were people from the times of socialism, who no longer enjoyed the work. Roman Berbr thus addressed his acquaintances with the fact that they could gradually dominate Czech football through district functions – and that is exactly what happened. It was thus a gradual process from districts through regions to Strahov.
If there really is to be a revolution in football, does it have to happen from below, and not in exchange for the FACR chairman?
Exactly. But Czech football needs to change from both directions. And whether we call it a revolution or just a personnel change, it doesn’t matter. For many years, I read on social networks how we journalists have to arrange it with Berber, or that it must be arranged by sponsors, individual clubs or the state. But none of those people, of the three hundred thousand people inside Czech football, seemed to think that they should arrange it when it’s their association. When I told her, they looked at me like a fool. Everyone felt that it was rigid, concreted, that nothing could be done about it. I had a similar feeling during socialism, and even in 1988 it never occurred to me that this could change.
So, going back to the initial example of Czech football as a reflection of society: Can it be said that the direction is right now, only thirty years behind?
Yes, from this point of view, the arrest of Roman Berbr for Czech football is like November 17 – which came thirty years later than he should have.