There are few sayings about Split that are popular among its citizens and they all have one thing in common: incredible love and respect for Split. The most popular one naming Split the most beautiful city in the world probably depends on the eye of the beholder, but one other saying could be easily measured and proved: the city of Split is Croatia’s capital of sport and the sportiest city in the world!
History of sport in Split
If you have chosen Split for your vacation destination and your holidays of choice are active and include a lot of sports, then you would probably love to know that Split has sport in its core from its early days. It is not just that people in Split enjoy playing various sports in their time of leisure, but they are also very good at it at a professional level. If you consider the fact that Split has about 200.000 inhabitants and a third of Croatian Olympians come from Split, and if you include all other professional athletes competing (and winning) on European and world sports competitions and tournaments, Split already measures some envious results.
The beginning of organized sport in Split dates all the way back to 1877 but its most significant sporting event took place in 1979 when Split hosted 8th Mediterranean Games. The Games were of great importance to the city since they were not only the biggest sporting event ever organized, but the infrastructure necessary for its organization left Split with several new buildings, courts and the beloved stadium Poljud which we also introduce in our list of best attractions in Split. Today you may know Poljud as the stage for Ultra music festival held in Split each summer since 2013.
One word – Hajduk
To the locals Poljud is home to the football team Hajduk which is not only adored as the club of Split, but the entire Dalmatia and even further, since its importance to the people transcends generations, borders and sometimes even borders of sanity 🙂 . Hajduk was founded in 1911 and has kept its tradition and importance ever since. Its supporters are called Torcida and are famous for their dedication and love they spread all over the city with paintings of the club’s herald, graffiti and songs.
Besides Hajduk, Split boasts itself with another football club with a stadium nearby – RNK Split founded in 1912. The existence of two football clubs in such near proximity proves the interest the locals have in sports, but mostly in football. This hasn’t stopped the development of other sports and great athletes who competed in their respective fields over the years.
This was also the reason why Split is proud to be the home of its Museum of Sport, since so many deserving sportsmen and women have been given the honor to be a part of its exhibition. At the moment the museum has 62 honorable members, and was founded in 2007 in the sports center Gripe, and will hopefully one day have a building of its own.
We have to mention that most of these sports and the enthusiasts who became professional athletes have succeeded in spite of lack of proper infrastructure, with minimal financial support, by showing tremendous will and talent. Some of them succeeded completely on their own, thanks to the support and dedication of the entire family, like our famous tennis player Goran Ivanišević whose welcome party on the promenade Riva after he finally won Wimbledon was one of the most spectacular parties Split has ever seen.
Split is known as the city of sport not just because of its amazing athletes, but also because of the joy all the people share and show when someone succeeds, which makes Split truly great. Of course, the people won’t allow you to get it to your head, so you can bask in your glory probably a day or two and then keep on going as if nothing happened.
So why is Split the sportiest city in the world?
Since the Olympics in London in 1948 many medals have been brought to Split and it would be very long to mention them all, so we will mention those who have especially warmed the hearts of the citizens of Split and have popularized some smaller sports besides football. It is impossible to talk about sport in Split without mentioning rowing club Gusar (Croatian: Pirate) and the golden medal brought home to Split from Helsinki in 1952 by the Coxless Four of the club Gusar.
The same year the water polo team brought home the silver medal. The water polo team repeated that success in Melbourne in 1956. Besides football, water polo and basketball in the following Olympics in Mexico City in 1968, it was Mrs. Đurđica Bjedov who made swimming the next top sport in Split, by winning both gold and silver medal.
The medals kept coming in all future Olympics, proving the enormous talent and determination of many successful sportsmen of Split. The new sport which started reaping all the medals was handball with the best handball player of all time, also hailing from Split (Ivano Balić).
As we have said it is very difficult to mention everyone from Split and show them the respect they all deserve, so next time you come to Split make sure you visit the courts and the playgrounds of some of the best athletes in the world, and of course if possible attend a football match on Poljud. On the West coast promenade you can see bronze plaques on the pavement with the names of all Olympic medal winners so make sure you check that out too.