What is Croatia’s national sport?

According to popular belief, Croatia’s national sport is football. This article aims to delve deeper into the history, significance, and cultural impact of football in Croatia. From its humble beginnings to its current status as a national obsession, we will explore the reasons behind football’s popularity and how it has shaped the identity of this beautiful country. Join us on this journey as we uncover the fascinating world of Croatia’s national sport.

History of sports in Croatia

Ancient sports in Croatia

Croatia has a rich history when it comes to sports, and this can be traced back to ancient times. Ancient sports played a significant role in the culture and daily lives of the people in this region. Some of the most prominent ancient sports in Croatia include:

  • Polo: Polo, a sport involving horseback riding and the use of a long-handled mallet to hit a ball, has a long history in Croatia. It was believed to have been introduced by the Romans and was widely popular during that time.

  • Pankration: Pankration, a combat sport similar to modern-day mixed martial arts, was also prevalent in ancient Croatia. This sport combined elements of boxing and wrestling and was a test of strength, agility, and skill.

  • Gladiator Games: Gladiator games were a spectacle in ancient Croatia, where skilled warriors fought against each other or wild animals. These games were not only a form of entertainment but also a display of bravery and skill.

Influence of foreign sports

The influence of foreign sports on Croatia cannot be overlooked. Throughout history, various foreign cultures have left their mark on Croatian sports, introducing new games and influencing the way they are played. Some notable examples of foreign sports that have had an impact on Croatia include:

  • Football (Soccer): Football, which originated in England, gained popularity in Croatia during the late 19th century. It quickly became one of the most beloved sports in the country and continues to be a national obsession.

  • Basketball: Basketball was introduced to Croatia by American soldiers during World War II. Since then, it has grown to become one of the most successful sports in the country, with the Croatian national basketball team achieving great success in international competitions.

  • Handball: Handball, a sport that originated in Germany, also gained popularity in Croatia during the early 20th century. It is now one of the most widely played team sports in the country.

Development of modern sports in Croatia

In recent years, Croatia has seen significant development in modern sports. The government and sports associations have actively promoted and supported the growth of various sports disciplines. Some notable developments in modern sports in Croatia include:

  • Tennis: Croatia has produced several world-class tennis players, such as Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic. The success of these players has contributed to the popularity of tennis in the country and has led to the establishment of prestigious tennis tournaments like the Croatia Open.

  • Water Sports: With its stunning coastline and numerous islands, Croatia has become a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts. Activities such as sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking have gained a strong following, attracting both locals and tourists alike.

  • Handball: Handball continues to thrive in Croatia, with the national handball team consistently performing well in international competitions. The sport has a strong grassroots presence and is actively encouraged in schools and local communities.

In conclusion, the history of sports in Croatia is a fascinating journey that encompasses ancient sports, foreign influences, and the development of modern sports. From ancient polo and gladiator games to the introduction of football and basketball, Croatia’s sporting heritage is diverse and rich. The ongoing support for sports development ensures that Croatia will continue to shine on the international sports stage.

Popular sports in Croatia


Football is undeniably the most popular sport in Croatia. The country has a strong football culture, with numerous talented players and a passionate fan base. The Croatian national football team has achieved notable success, including reaching the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The top domestic league, the Prva HNL, attracts a significant following, and matches between popular clubs like Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split are highly anticipated events.


Handball holds a special place in the hearts of many Croatians. The national handball team has consistently performed well on the international stage, winning multiple medals in major competitions. The sport is also popular at the club level, with teams like RK Zagreb and HC PPD Zagreb enjoying a strong following. The fast-paced nature of handball and the skillful displays of players make it a thrilling sport to watch and play in Croatia.


Croatia has produced some exceptional tennis players who have achieved global recognition. Names like Goran Ivanisevic, Ivan Ljubicic, and Marin Cilic have made significant contributions to the sport. The country hosts prestigious tennis tournaments, most notably the ATP Tour event in Umag and the WTA Tour event in Bol. The Croatian Davis Cup team has also enjoyed success, winning the prestigious competition in 2005. Tennis continues to attract a large number of enthusiasts in Croatia, both as spectators and participants.

In conclusion, football, handball, and tennis are the most popular sports in Croatia. The nation’s passion for these sports is evident through the success of its national teams, the strong following of domestic leagues, and the achievements of individual athletes. Whether it’s the roar of the crowd in a football stadium, the intensity of a handball match, or the elegance of a tennis rally, Croatians embrace these sports with great zeal and pride.

Traditional sports in Croatia


Picigin is a traditional sport in Croatia that originated in the city of Split. It is a unique beach game that is played in shallow water, usually at the sandy beaches of the Adriatic Sea. The objective of picigin is to keep a small ball in the air and prevent it from touching the water. Players form a circle and pass the ball to each other using their hands, feet, or any other body part except their arms. The game requires agility, coordination, and quick reflexes, making it a popular activity among locals and tourists alike.


Boćanje, also known as bocce or bowls, is a popular traditional sport in Croatia. It is a precision ball sport that can be played on various surfaces such as grass, gravel, or asphalt. The objective of boćanje is to throw or roll a set of balls as close as possible to a smaller target ball called a jack. Players take turns to strategically aim and throw their balls, using tactics and skill to outmaneuver their opponents. Boćanje is often played in teams and is a social activity enjoyed by people of all ages.

Sinjska alka

Sinjska alka is a traditional equestrian sport that has been practiced in the town of Sinj, Croatia, for centuries. It is a knightly competition that combines horseback riding and lance throwing. The main event of Sinjska alka takes place annually on the first Sunday in August and commemorates the victory of the local defenders against the Ottoman Empire in 1715. Participants, known as alkar, ride at full gallop along a track and attempt to hit a small iron ring, known as the alka, with a lance. The precision and speed required to successfully hit the alka make this sport both exciting and challenging.

These traditional sports in Croatia showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage and provide unique experiences for both participants and spectators. Whether it’s the beach game of picigin, the precision of boćanje, or the thrilling equestrian competition of Sinjska alka, these sports offer a glimpse into Croatia’s sporting traditions and the passion of its people.

Croatia’s national sport holds a significant place in the hearts of its people, reflecting their rich cultural heritage and passion for competition. From the traditional sport of picigin, played on the sandy beaches of Split, to the globally beloved sport of football, Croatia’s national sport embodies the country’s unity, identity, and sporting achievements. With a strong emphasis on teamwork, dedication, and skill, this sport brings communities together, fostering a sense of pride and unity. As Croatia continues to make its mark on the international sporting stage, its national sport will undoubtedly remain an integral part of the nation’s identity for generations to come.

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