The Olza connects
Sport after 1989
Sports cooperation is one of those areas of local cross-border activity in Cieszyn which are to a considerable extent blocked by institutional frameworks. It is because sports clubs are strictly subordinate to national sports governing bodies and the games they organize, which are limited to the territory of a given country. Therefore, cooperation in this field depends not only on the willingness to cooperate, but is also hampered by rules which apply to the organization of international sports events and games. This is why cooperation in sports is much more difficult than in the case of culture. This situation means that in most cases, competitions between players from the opposite sides of the Olza can only be of a friendly, recreational or symbolic nature. However, it turns out that despite such limitations, joint sports events and meetings after 1990 have abounded.
The first signs of sports cooperation between Cieszyn and Český Těšín after the political transformation were visible on the Three Brothers’ Day, a festival first organized in September 1991. The celebrations included a football match between FC Ondraszek Cieszyn and the football team of the Paper Mills from Český Těšín. The second edition of the festival took place in June 1992, when the municipal authorities of Cieszyn and Český Těšín played a match. From then on, it became customary to invite guests from the other side of the town to participate in events which were formally played only on one side of the Olza. This was the case with Three Brothers’ Day in 1995, when a road run for children and youth was organized in the Polish side of the town, and in the Czech part there was an international march held called Around Cieszyn. Such symbolic sports events were organized in later years as well. A good example is a football match played in 2011 during the Cinema on the Border film festival. A team made up of Polish artists faced outstanding figures of Czech culture associated with the Amfora Club. Even though the score is not the most important thing in such games, it is worth noting that the Poles won 5-3.
In some sports, especially leisure sports, it was easier for local activists to cooperate with their counterparts from the other side of the Olza. For many years, such cooperation has been successfully maintained by chess players from the Municipal Students’ Sports Club in Cieszyn, who invite guests from Třinec, Karviná, Frýdek-Místek, Orlová, Havířov and Český Těšín, among others, to participate in tournaments which they organize (for example Christmas and New Year’s tournament, Cieszyn Mayor’s Cup Tournament, or the tournament on the 1200th Anniversary of Cieszyn).
The Delfin Youth Swimming Association used to function in a similar way. Since the second half of the 1990s, the Association has organized swimming competitions at the swimming pool belonging to the Cieszyn Branch of the University of Silesia. Competitors from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine are also invited. The competition kept building its reputation and in 2016 it came under the patronage of the Polish Swimming Federation. Over 400 athletes from 243 clubs participated in the competition in 2015. The swimming club applied for resources from European funds to finance training camps (many of which were organized in Zaolzie, namely Bystřice (Bystrzyca) by the Olza in the Czech Republic).
Sports events whose aim was to integrate the neighbouring nations were often incorporated into events organized by municipal authorities. An example of such a competition is Women’s Volleyball Championship which took place in 2009 as part of the Three Brothers’ Day. The following teams participated in it: Victoria MOSiR Cieszyn, TS Slavoj Český Těšín and PALAS VK Levice (from Slovakia).
Youth exchange programmes and allowing young people to get to know each other at sports competitions is an important element of national and European politics. In Cieszyn Silesia there are numerous signs of this type of integration, despite the fact that in order to organize such cross-border events, it is necessary to meet a great number of legal requirements and procedures every time.
On the local level, some examples are the International Football Tournament which was organized in Český Těšín in the Primary School at Slezska Street on 4th December 2004. Children from Polish Cieszyn participated in it as well. On 24th May 2006, a group of 35 students from schools in Český Těšín participated in the International Cieszyn Championship in Cross Country Running, organized by Primary School No. 6 in Cieszyn.
There is also a periodic event called International Sports Days, whose aim is to integrate children from the Visegrád Group. Its 2010 edition took place in Cieszyn. Children from Cieszyn, Český Těšín, Budapest and Rožňava in Slovakia participate in this exchange.
When it comes to cycling, we can observe very diverse actions, which deserve to be discussed because of their persistence and great importance for the promotion of history and tourist values of the whole Cieszyn Silesia. It is related mainly to the activity of the Ondraszek Tourist Cycling Club, which has for a long time cooperated with the Olza Cycling Association established by the Olza Polish Tourist and Sports Association in the Czech Republic. Together, they have organized e.g. The Ride to the Source of the Vistula (since 2007), which attracts a few hundred people. Members of these sister associations invite each other to cycling events (e.g. To Europe by Bike - a multiple-day ride from the source of the Vistula to Gdańsk, which is about 1200 km). In 2006, these two associations jointly prepared the Cycling Tourism Leaders’ Rally with 350 participants from all around Poland, who had the opportunity to visit and get to know Zaolzie by bike.
Cycling cooperation between Poland and the Czech Republic is very fruitful also when it comes to high performance sport. At the beginning of the 21st century, a race For the Blue Ribbon of the Olza River (which was always organized in September) was part of the Polish U-20 Cup. Its route, which was about 100 kilometres long, ran through the Polish and Czech parts of Cieszyn.
Nevertheless, the most well-known cycling event which has been organized in these two towns three times is Tour de Pologne. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the routes of some stages of the race crossed the border on the Olza. In 2010, during the 67th edition of the race, it was the 3rd stage which started in Tychy and was almost 178 km long, in 2011 the 4th stage which started in Oświęcim and was 177 km long and in 2012 the 3rd stage again, which started in Kędzierzyn-Koźle and was almost 202 km long. It is worth noting that in 2010, the winner who first crossed the finishing line on the market square in Cieszyn was Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who later became the world champion.
Another periodic and still developing event which brings the two towns together is the Fortuna Run, which has been organized since 2009. It is actually made up of a few runs adjusted to the abilities of the participants. The most important one is the so-called main run, which is 10 km long. At the beginning, the Fortuna Run attracted a few hundred participants (e.g. in 2010, 342 participants entered the main run), but it is constantly growing (in 2016, there were about 3500 runners). It is not only competitors from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Kenya. Runners from the latter country often win the main run. As for now, Abel Kibet Rop is the only person who has won the race twice (in 2015 and 2016). Since 2017, the Fortuna Run was included in the Beskidy Cup (along with Żywiec Half Marathon and Fiat Run). It is because of this race, as well as the fashion for running and a healthy lifestyle, that weekly runs called Parkrun began to be organized. They make use of sports and leisure infrastructure which was built in both towns thanks to European funds.
Sports cooperation between Cieszyn and Český Těšín concerns winter sports as well. In April 2010, the Silesia Grand Prix in curling was organized in the newly-opened Cieszyn Olympians Sports and Entertainment Arena. Teams from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia took part (there were 10 teams in total). In December 2012, the Three Nations Figure Skating Championship was organized in the same Arena.
In 2015, the International Friendly Mini Hockey Tournament for Cieszyn Mayor’s Cup was organized. Eight teams from both sides of the Olza participated in it and played matches in both towns.
During the construction of the abovementioned Sports and Entertainment Arena in Cieszyn, the municipal authorities of Český Těšín offered help to their neighbours, which proves that the two towns are on friendly terms. The Arena was built at the site of the municipal skating rink and during the construction process, the residents of Cieszyn had no other building of this type that they could use. It was then that the authorities of Český Těšín made their own skating rink available to children from Poland. For the same reasons, Český Těšín made its skating rink available to athletes who took part in the Polonia Games, which Cieszyn co-organized (together with Bielsko-Biała, Szczyrk, Wisła, Ustroń and Jastrzębie-Zdrój). In this way, it was possible to organize all-round skating competitions by the Olza and participants did not have to travel to another town.
When Poland and the Czech Republic joined the European Union, it became possible to finance numerous development programmes which improved citizens’ standard of living. Such funds can also be obtained for activities related to leisure and mass sport. The towns of Cieszyn and Český Těšín filed an application entitled “Sportpark – Park Sportowy” as part of the Operational Programme for Transborder Cooperation between the Czech Republic and the Republic of Poland 2007-2013. The application was accepted on 9th November 2009. The project included the area called Pod Wałką (located on the Polish side) and Sikora Park (on the Czech side). The project was made up of a few parts which were jointly referred to as “the Garden on Two Banks” (and included Revital Park, Sport Park and Sport Most). The newly-built infrastructure satisfies the needs of those who run, cycle or rollerblade for leisure. As part of the project, the Stadium known as Pod Wałką was renovated and a new football field with an artificial surface, a volleyball court, a beach volleyball court, a basketball court and a streetball court were built. There are also new cycle paths, car parks and lighting . In the final stage, which was finished on 6th June 2012, the Sports Bridge was opened for use (for pedestrians and cyclists).
It was not the only project financed by the European Union whose aim was to support sports activities (some other projects have already been mentioned).
Thanks to European funds, it was possible to promote activities focusing on sports development and the integration of children from both sides of the Olza. One of such projects was a series of swimming competitions called Saturday in Cieszyn, which was financed as part of Crossing Borders Regional Development Fund (2009).
Another similar project was the Transborder Sports Academy, whose beneficiary was the Pedagogical Centre for Polish Minority Schools in Český Těšín and the Anima Proactive Animation, Sports and Culture Association from Cieszyn. Funding came from the Operational Programme for Transborder Cooperation between the Czech Republic and the Republic of Poland 2007-2013. The project was aimed at teachers and students from both sides of the Olza. It focused on promoting new didactic forms and Olympic ideals, as well as presenting new sports (2011).
Another project was the Basketball Festival called All Sides of the Basket, which was organized in 2011. Participants from Poland and the Czech Republic were invited to take part in six tournaments. Funding came from the Operational Programme for Transborder Cooperation between the Czech Republic and the Republic of Poland 2007-2013.
Funds from European programmes reached local recipients through various institutions. The Freestyle City Festival, which took place from 5th to 8th August 2010 in Cieszyn and Český Těšín attracted over 300 participants who competed in various extreme sports. The event received funding from the Regional Operational Programme for Silesian Voivodeship 2007-2013, which was part of the European Regional Development Fund.
On the local level, especially since 2005, sport in Cieszyn has been supporting the reconciliation and integration processes of the neighbouring communities. The possibility of using considerable European funds has led to the development of leisure and sports facilities of both towns, which has improved the quality of life for their residents.
Cieszyn Fortuna Run, 2019 (Photo: Kampas-sport.eu, Archives of the Municipality Office in Cieszyn)
Tour de Pologne, 2010 (Photo: Magenta Studio)
The Sports Bridge, 2013 (Photo: Renata Karpińska)