Is Split Really the Sportiest City in the World?

By 25 January 2016

We love to say Split is the sportiest city in the world. More than 90 athletes from Split have competed in the Olympics; this is the hometown of Blanka Vlašić, Goran Ivanišević, Mario Ančić, former NBA stars Toni Kukoć and Dino Rađa. handball legends Petar Metličić and Ivano Balić, the list goes on and on… But are we really a city that entices all sports or is this string of above-mentioned jewels just a stroke of pure luck for this city?

After spending the entire weekend in the Poljud swimming pool complex during the Croatia open 2016 swimming championship for disabled, I would have to say it’s mostly Split's luck and determination of individuals. This year’s edition of Croatia Open, an annual international championship for disabled swimmers was the last important meet before Rio 2016 Paralympic Games since it was the last opportunity to change their classification and to reach the required norm for the games. So 140 swimmers from 14 countries including China and Faroe Islands came to Split with dreams and hopes of reaching Rio.


President of Croatian Swimming Association for Disabled Ana Sršen and delegate Mihovil Španja, both former Paralympians with Split swimming legend Đurđica Bjedov

The list of competitors was impressive from Katalin Engelhardt who competed in 6 Paralympics, absolute legend Xavi Rams Torres who won 16 medals, broke 4 world records in his career and still holds a world record to Stephanie Millward 5 time medal winner and probably the best swimmer in the world at the moment. Not to mention our very own possible medal winners in Rio Kristijan Vincetić and Dino Sinovčić who both qualified and improved their results dramatically this weekend.  And yet, apart from a few lines in the newspaper, and few announcements on internet portals, there was no other sign of what was happening in the sportiest city in the world.

Kristijan Vincetić, competing in Rio Paralympics 2016

Surprised? I’m not. It’s not a Hajduk game so why bother. And don’t get me wrong, as a daughter of a former professional football player, I am a huge fan so this is not an attack on football. But one would think the City and County would pay a bit more attention to this event, especially since Split is submitting a candidature for the 2018 EU IPC Swimming Championship.

The city sent its sports department official Hrvoje Akrap to the opening while the County sent the controversial “technical” president of the Dalmatian Football Federation Alojzije Šupraha and they even gave him a title Expert advisor for sports of the county’s Managing board for social activities. And that was it. No open invitation for schools and sports clubs to come and see these incredible athletes even though it was open for public. It goes without saying all our sports clubs and young athletes could have benefited greatly from seeing the incredible drive and determination of these exceptional swimmers.

Of course, there was no official audience at City Hall. Just a few gift bags for dignitaries and brochures from the Tourist board (without bags since apparently they ran out so the City had to provide some). Why would we ever consider these sports delegations as possible tourists? It’s not like our Tourist Board is aware Accessible tourism is an actual tourism niche generating $17B per year in the US alone.

All that aside, the organization of this year’s event was fantastic thanks to the Sports association for disabled from Split, Croatian Swimming Association for Disabled, swimming clubs Cipal and Mornar from Split, Croatian Paralympics Committee and dozens of volunteers from various universities. Transfers were on time, hotels were great, medical staff was impeccable and athletes were more than happy despite the fact that the heating system in the pool area was not working properly resulting in less than perfect water temperature, and that most of us at the monitoring table were praying we don’t get electrocuted since we were equipped with laptops and microphones and the water was constantly dripping from the roof.

Enthusiasm and dedication of a handful of people turned this event into a success. Now if we could only get the officials to wake up and realize that there are indeed some other sports out there besides football, I’d say we have the EU championship in the bag.  In case you missed the competition, here is a photo gallery published by Jutarnji list. Photos by Tom Dubravec.