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).
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.
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).