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Sport in Croatia

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Sport in Croatia

The red and white squares of the Croatian coat of arms are a symbol of the Croatian national sports teams

Sport in Croatia has significant role in Croatian culture, and many local sports clubs as well as the Croatian national squads enjoy strong followings in the country. The most enduring sport by far in Croatia is football, and is played on amateur and professional levels amongst all age groups across the entire country. Several other major team sports are handball, basketball and water polo, with clubs in all parts of Croatia. Ice hockey is another popular team sport, namely in the Croatian interior. The most popular individual sports in Croatia are tennis, alpine skiing, and swimming, and to some extent table tennis and chess. Various amateur sport games are popular in Croatia, notably picigin.


Franjo Bučar (1866–1946) is widely considered to be the father of modern Croatian sport. He founded the Croatian Sports Federation in 1909 within what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[1] Bučar introduced a multitude of mainstream sports in Croatia, such as football, alpine skiing, ice skating and ice hockey, as well as gymnastics and fencing. The Franjo Bučar State Award for Sport, the Republic of Croatia's highest award in the development of sport, is named in his honor.

With the exception of the years during the fascist-era Independent State of Croatia, Croatian club and national teams first represented the Republic of Croatia at the start of the 1990s, with the formation of the Croatian national football team and its first match against the United States in 1990.

Team sports

Association football

Sellout crowd at Poljud Stadium for a Hajduk Split match

Football is the most popular sport in Croatia, and is governed by the Croatian Football Federation. The Prva HNL is the top division of the country's football league system, and operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the Druga HNL. Dinamo Zagreb is the country's most successful football club and the 2011 champion, with 13 total championships, followed by Hajduk Split with 6 championships (last one in 2005). The rivalry between these two clubs is known as the Eternal Derby in Croatia, with the two clubs combining to win all but one of the 20 championships ever contested in the league's history. The Prva HNL is ranked 19th league in Europe by UEFA, and Dinamo Zagreb is the highest-ranked Croatian club in Europe, occupying the 76th spot.

The Croatian Cup is the main knock-out tournament in Croatian football, and has also been dominated by Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. The Croatian Supercup is contested between the champions of the Prva HNL and the Croatian Cup.

No Croatian Club has ever won the UEFA Champions League, however Hajduk Split, at the time Croatia's premier club, made it to the quarterfinals of the 1994-95 league, losing on aggregate to eventual champion Ajax.

The Croatian national football team won a bronze medal in the 1998 FIFA World Cup and Davor Šuker won the Golden Boot as the top goal scorer. The national football team has also played in the quarter-finals of the 1996 European Championships and the 2008 European Championships. The team is currently ranked 11th in the FIFA World Rankings (as of October 2012). Today, Croatia's most popular footballers are Luka Modrić, Mario Mandžukić, Ivica Olić, Darijo Srna, Ivan Perišić, Ivan Klasnić, Niko Kranjčar and Vedran Ćorluka, as well as foreign-born Joe Šimunić, Eduardo da Silva and Sammir. In August 2012, Luka Modrić was acquired by Spanish giants and 31-time La Liga champions Real Madrid for a deal totalling over £33 million, and he made his debut as a substitute in Real's 2-1 victory over Catalan rivals FC Barcelona.

Team handball

Croatian handball fans in the 2007 World Championship

Historically, Croatia has been a prolific nation in handball, both in the success of its club handball, as well as with the achievements of the Croatian national squad.

At the start of the 2nd half of the 20th century, RK Bjelovar dominated Croatian handball, and in the 1970s won five Yugoslavian league championships. In 1972, RK Bjelovar won the EHF Champions League, Europe's greatest handball competition, and reached the final the following year. A smaller city, Bjelovar's reign of successes can be likened to that of the storied Vince Lombardiera Green Bay Packers of the National Football League, as the town of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the smallest NFL market in the United States, brought home five league championships in the 1960s.

Since Croatian independence, RK Zagreb has been the nation's premier handball club. It has won every Croatian First Handball League championship that has been contested, 20 in all. The club has reached the EHF Champions League finals six times, winning consecutively in 1992 and 1993. In 2008 the club acquired Croatian star Ivano Balić, considered the best handballer of all time.[2]

The Croatia national handball team is currently ranked 10th in the world by the International Handball Federation. At the 1996 and 2004 Summer Olympics, Croatia won gold medals in men's handball. The squad won the 2003 World Men's Handball Championship, and came in 2nd at the 1995 and 2005 championships, as well as at the 2009 Championship as hosts, losing in the final to France. Croatia also came in 3rd at the 1994 European Men's Handball Championship and 2nd at the 2008 and 2010 championships.


The Croatian national basketball team won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympic basketball tournament, bronze medal at the 1994 FIBA World Championship and bronze medals at EuroBasket 1993 and EuroBasket 1995. Croatian basketball clubs were Euroleague champions 5 times: KK Split three times (in 1989, 1990 and 1991) and KK Cibona in 1985 and 1986. Croatian basketball players such as Dražen Petrović, Krešimir Ćosić and Toni Kukoč were amongst the first foreign players to succeed in the NBA in the United States.

Water polo

The Croatia national water polo team won a gold medal at the 2007 FINA World Championships and bronze medals in 2009 and 2011. The team also won gold at the 2012 Olympic water polo games and silver at the 1996 Olympic games, as well as gold at the 2010 European Championship and silvers in the 1999 and 2003 European Championships. Croatian water polo clubs were 13 times LEN Euroleague champions. HAVK Mladost from Zagreb was a seven time European Champion (in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1990, 1991 and 1996) and was awarded the title Best Club of the 20th Century by the LEN. VK Jug from Dubrovnik and VK Jadran from Split were both three time European champions.

Rugby union

Logo of RK Nada

Rugby union in pre-independence Croatia was a moderately popular sport, but due to its recent international successes, it is gaining more recognition. Some people date the start of Croatian rugby to 17 January 1954 when the Mladost team from Zagreb was formed to become Croatia's first Rugby Club.

Croatian sides competed in the Rugby Championship of Yugoslavia, which ran from 1957-1991. Croatia was something of a centre of rugby union in Yugoslavia before it gained its independence.

The biggest rugby "scrum" in the world was made on 14 Oct 2007, in Croatia, with over 200 players of all categories from Croatian rugby club Nada,[3] for a Millennium Photo.

Australian Rules Football

Is gaining popularity mainly due to the University of Zagreb. Four teams currently play out of Zagreb and one out of Slavonski Brod whilst a team from Graz in Austria also competes in the CEAFL

Ice hockey

KHL Medveščak Zagreb in 2009

Introduced at the start of the 20th century, Croatian Ice Hockey Federation. From the late 1930s until Croatia's independence, Croatian ice hockey clubs competed in the Yugoslav Hockey League, with Croatia's most successful club KHL Medveščak Zagreb winning the championship three consecutive times from 1988 to 1990.

Ice hockey is particularly popular in the interior regions of Croatia's Pannonia, Slavonia, Zagreb and Zagorje, where winters are as cold as in more prolific hockey nations such as the Slovak and Czech Republics. Today, KHL Medveščak competes in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League or KHL, the top-tier Russian tournament and the 2nd highest-ranking ice hockey league in the world.[4] Before joining KHL, Medveščak played in an Austrian league names EBEL, Medveščak debuted in EBEL in the 2009 season and it has qualified for the playoffs every year.

Medveščak joined the continental KHL league in the 2013–14 season.


Croatia women's national volleyball team won silver medals three times at European Volleyball Championship in 1995, 1997 and 1999.

Individual sports

Croatian tennis star Goran Ivanišević at Wimbledon, 2004
Blanka Vlašić, European and World high jump champion and 2010 European athlete of the year[5]

Janica Kostelić is the most successful female alpine ski racer in the history of the Winter Olympic Games. She is the only woman to win four gold medals in alpine skiing at the Winter Olympics Alpine skiing events (in 2002 and 2006), and the only woman to win three alpine skiing gold medals in one Olympics (2002). She also won two slilver medals in 2006. Janica was the World Cup overall champion in 2001, 2003, and 2006. On February 5, 2006 Janica became only the second female skier to win all five disciplines in one season. She also holds the record for the highest number of points in one World Cup season. In 2006 she won Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year. Her elder brother Ivica Kostelić was the 2003 World Champion in slalom and the Men's Overall Champion at the 2011 Alpine Skiing World Cup, and as of 14 February 2014 is a four-time Winter Olympic silver medalist himself.

Blanka Vlašić is the best-known Croatian track and field athlete; she specialises in the high jump. She is 2007 and 2009 World Champion. Blanka is also 2008 World Indoor Champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist. Her personal best is 2.08 m (6 ft 9.89 in) (which is only 1 cm less than the world record) set in Zagreb at August 31, 2009.

Ana Konjuh, a young tennis player, new superstar to some.

Janica Kostelić, considered to be one of the greatest female skiers of all time.
Marin Čilić, rising tennis player

Croatian athletes have had considerable success in individual sports as well, where they represented Croatia in international competitions at the highest level. These sports include:

Sports and leagues

National organizations and leagues exist in Croatia for most popular sports. Some of these include:

National sports teams

The Croatian national handball team in 2010

Some of Croatia's more successful national teams include:


× International International Club Club
Football (M) World Cup
3rd (1998)
European Championship
Quarter Finals (1996 & 2008)
Champion's League
Quarterfinals (HNK Hajduk Split in 1994/1995)
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup
(Dinamo Zagreb)
Handball World Championship
European Championship
2nd (2)
Champion's League
Champion (3)
Cup Winners' Cup
Basketball World Championship
3rd (2)
Champion (5)
NLB League
Water Polo World Championship
European Championship
LEN Euroleague
Champion (13)
Champion (2)
Tennis Davis Cup
World Team Cup

Olympic Games

Croatia has participated in the following Summer Olympic Games to date:

Croatia has participated in the following Winter Olympic Games to date:

Hostings of international sporting events

Croatia has hosted many international sporting events. Until 1992 Croatia hosted the events as a part of Yugoslavia.

Alpine skiing

Zagreb (Sljeme) has organized many FIS races apart from the World Cup races held every year from 2005.[6] The first ever FIS alpine ski race was held in 1995 and included 94 racers from 7 different countries.[7]

Artistic gymnastics



Australian football


Beach handball


Canoeing and kayaking




Figure skating




Ice hockey







Volleyball (indoor)

Multi-sport events

See also


  1. ^ Who was Franjo Bučar?
  2. ^ Ivano Balic voted best male player ever
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Russian league tops first CHL ranking
  5. ^ "European athletics association". Retrieved 2010-11-14. 
  6. ^§or_search=AL&date_search=&gender_search=&category_search=&codex_search=&nation_search=CRO&disciplinecode_search=&search=Search&rec_start=0&limit=100
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  9. ^§or_search=AL&date_search=&gender_search=&category_search=WC&codex_search=&nation_search=CRO&disciplinecode_search=&search=Search&limit=100
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External links

  • Hrvatska domaćin (Croatian)
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