Friday, 14 December 2018
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

Forget Red Bull. I’ll have Croatian Bull!

By  Dec 01, 2018

It must be something in the water! Is there some special gene pool in Croatia? How can it be that such a small country with a population hoovering around the 4 million mark is just so absolutely talented and successful at sport? I really don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining, far from it, I am just in wonder, sheer disbelief.

Croatia took their revenge over the mighty France this week. 25,000 screaming French fans in Lille were silenced by the thunder of Croatian rackets. Revenge for what? Revenge for beating Croatia in the World Cup Finals in Russia. It just seems surreal writing that. Croatia made it to the finals of the World Cup and won the Davis Cup in the same year.

Has any nation with 4 million people ever achieved sporting success in a year as Croatia has in 2018? Of course not. You know the name of the smallest country ever to win a Davis Cup? Yes, it’s Croatia.

I dug and I dug but I couldn’t find any nation that comes even close. I couldn’t even list all the sporting glories this year, I would run out of paper. Rowing, gymnastics, taekwondo, athletics, I could go on and on. The successes are just as varied as the sports. So what is behind this success?

The beginning of the story probably has a lot to do with the socialist regime. Communist and for that matter socialist countries invested, and invest, huge amounts of resources into sport. Sport was seen as a reflection of the regime. Successful at sport = successful country. But this is the past, is the roll-on effect of socialism in sport really lasting for 25 years. Everything is against these sporting heroes.

They mostly have terrible facilities or no facilities at all. The investment is virtually zero, the organisation is amateur and yet again and again they win. “Do you know how many tennis courts there are in Croatia?” the presenter asked the sports expert. “The truth is nobody knows, all we do know is that 90 percent are owned by the state and they are in pretty bad shape, also we have very, very few covered courts in the country,” he answered. WTF!?! A country that has just won the most prestigious tennis competition in the world and we don’t even know how many tennis courts we have. In fact, all we do know is that the ones we have are appalling.

The Americans, the Germans, the Australians and in fact the British spend billions and billions every year on tennis and yet they can’t even make it to the finals. Croatia spends less than a taxi fare from the airport to the Old City and wins the bloody competition.

I am trying to make sense from something that is quite clearly illogical. I dug through the record books again. The closest example of a small country doing well in tennis and football in the same period of time was, yes you’ve guessed it Croatia!?! In 1998 they won the bronze medal at the World Cup and just seven years later won the Davis Cup for the first time. If this had happened once you could say, well that was just once in a million luck. Or as the English say “Even a blind squirrel finds a hazelnut once.” But to happen twice, well that’s not luck, and it clearly isn’t planning, and it also isn’t investment. So what the hell is it?

If it were the roll-on effect of socialism, then why aren’t other former socialist states in eastern Europe so successful? We have almost no snow and yet have the most successful female skier of all time, Janica Koselic. One of the most unfunded and poorly football leagues in Europe and yet we reach the World Cup Finals. Have terrible athletic training conditions and yet produce Blanka Vlašić and Sandra Perković. Have a lack of swimming pools and yet are Champions of water polo. We even won a gold medal at shooting a bloody shotgun!?! WTF!?!

What is the secret of all this success? Honestly I really don’t have a clue. But if and when I find the secret ingredient I am going to bottle it and sell it. Forget Red Bull. I’ll have Croatian Bull!

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