The most popular sports in Croatia are football, basketball, handball and water polo. According to the FIFA rankings in June 2013, the Croatian football team ranks 4th in the world, behind Spain, Germany and Argentina.

Society and way of life

Sport

Croatians are a sporting nation; sport is part of the compulsory curriculum in schools at all levels of education. Many children and young people take part in extracurricular sporting activities, which are also seen as a way of life in recreational terms. There are about 16,000 sports associations in Croatia. The most popular sport is football, with almost 1,500 registered clubs and 130,000 participants. As in most other European countries, sport in Croatia is financed from the State Budget, state and public contributions, sponsorship and membership fees.

The largest sports association is the Croatian Olympic Committee (Hrvatski Olimpijski Odbor – HOO), which was founded in 1991. About 80 national sports associations operate within the HOO, covering 39 Olympic sports and 41 non-Olympic sports.

Although Croatia has inherited a tradition of sporting competition dating back to Roman times, or medieval knights’ tournaments, the beginnings of organised sport in the country can be traced to the late 19th century, when the first sports associations were founded. Hrvatski Sokol (Croatian Falcon) was founded in 1874, and soon spread throughout the country, becoming the largest, most popular organisation, promoting modern gymnastics and other branches of sport (cycling, fencing, equestrianism, athletics, skating, tennis, and so on).

Hrvatski Sokol poster; Menci Clement Crnčić, 1906
Franjo Bučar (1866–1946), sports populariser, literary historian and publicist; initiated and organised several branches of sport (skiing, fencing, tennis, football, etc.)
Milan Neralić (1875–1918), fencer; the first Croat to participate in the Olympic Games and the first to win a medal (1900)
Đurđa Bjedov (1947), swimmer; won gold and silver medals at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968
Mate Mate Parlov (1948–2008), boxer; won an Olympic gold medal in 1972. As a professional boxer, he became the light-heavyweight world champion in 1978.
Matija Ljubek (1953–2000), canoeist; won gold and bronze medals at the 1976 Olympic Games and silver and gold medals at the 1984 Games

By the early 20th century, there were more and more sportsmen and women in Croatia, and alongside the continuing high numbers of Sokol association members, who were united in 1907 in the Hrvatski Sokolski Savez (Croatian Falcons’ Union), special sports organisations were founded, particularly football organisations, while in 1909 the umbrella organisation Hrvatski Športski Savez (Croatian Sports Association) was established. The further development of Croatian sport and its rich history have been linked primarily with the Olympian movement, and were organised by Franjo Bučar, starting in 1896, representing a century-long struggle for Croatian sporting independence. Olympic participants from Croatia competed under the Austrian, Italian and Yugoslav flags, and first competed under the Croatian flag in 1992, at the Winter Olympic Games held in Albertville and the Summer Games held in Barcelona, following the admittance of the Croatian Olympic Committee to the International Olympic Committee.

Stipe Božić (1951), climber, explorer and publicist; climbed the three highest peaks in the world (Mt. Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga) and the highest peaks on all continents. He is a member of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service.
Krešimir Ćosić (1948–95), basketball player and coach; played in Croatia, the USA, Slovenia and Italy. Won two world championships (1970 and 1978), one gold (1980) and two silver medals (1968 and 1976) at the Olympic Games. The first Croat to be installed in the American Basketball Hall of Fame (1996).
Dražen Petrović (1964–93), basketball player; played in Croatia, for the Spanish club Real, and in the NBA League. He was the first captain of the Croatian national team, with which he won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympic Games in the final against the American Dream Team. He was installed in the American Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Davor Šuker (1968), footballer; top goalscorer at the World Cup in 1998, when the Croatian national team won third place
Goran Ivanišević (1971), tennis player; won two bronze medals at the 1992 Olympic Games (men’s singles and doubles), won Wimbledon in 2001 and played in the team which won the Davis Cup in 2005.
National handball team. The men’s national handball team has been playing since 1991; they won the World Championship in Portugal in 2003, took the gold at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996 and in Athens in 2004, as well as the bronze in London in 2012. Ivano Balić (1979) is the most prominent player, voted the best handball player in the world in 2003 and 2006.

Although the first appearances by Croatian competitors signified national identification, their successes turned Croatia into a strong sporting country, and today, they are a recognisable part of the country’s identity and often serve as its best ambassadors.

Along with many medals at international and European championships, Croatia has won 33 Olympic medals: 10 gold (2 in handball, one each in athletics, weightlifting, shooting, water polo, and 4 in downhill skiing), 12 silver medals: two in rowing, one each in athletics, gymnastics, basketball, water polo and swimming, and 5 in downhill skiing) and 11 bronze medals (3 in tennis, 3 in taekwondo, and one each in weightlifting, shooting, rowing, handball and the biathlon).

National water polo team. The national water polo team has been playing since 1991; at the 1996 Olympic Games they took the silver medal, and won the gold in 2012, along with the World Championship.
Janica Kostelić (1982), skier; won the World Cup in the slalom and came first in the overall ratings in 20001/01, 2002/03 and 2005/06, took the silver in 2004/05 and won 4 gold and 2 silver medals at the Olympic Games in 2002 and 2006
Ivica Kostelić (1979), skier; won the World Cup in the slalom in 2001/02; won the super combined and slalom in 2010/11, when he finished overall first in the ratings, as well as super combined 2011/12; won 3 silver medals at the Olympic Games in 2006 and 2010.
Sandra Perković (1990), athlete; Olympic discus throw champion in 2012
Blanka Vlašić (1983), athlete; high jump world champion in 2007 and 2009, winner of the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games. She was voted the best athlete in Europe in 2010.
Croatian Olimpic team at the opening ceremony of the Olimpic games 2012 in London