Sick of The World Cup? Here Are Five Alternative Croatian ‘Sports’

By 12 June 2018

June 12, 2018 — Not too riled up about watching a bunch of footballers half-heartedly kick a ball as they travel about Russia during the World Cup? You're not alone. Fortunately, Croatia has admirable and odd alternatives.

Oh here comes the noxious period where everyone suddenly becomes a football savant and rabid nationalist.
Even second- or third-generation children of immigrants don the football kit of their grandparents’ team, or buy a flag they otherwise wouldn’t own.
We all know the type. The football bandwagoneer, a lowly faker who can’t pronounce the names of the players he or she is allegedly supporting.
And you? Looking about the bar at pseudo fanatics, bored to tears? Unimpressed by Messi’s antic dribbling and Ronaldo’s whining?
Well, Croatia’s got you covered. From the pointless to the embarrassing, everyone can find some oddball local “sport” worth calling their own.
Sure beats watching farce matches like Panama vs. Tunisia.
Have you ever watched a World Cup match and thought, “How come this can’t be a bunch of middle-aged Speedo-clad men thrashing about in shallow water as if diving after a newborn baby plummeting from the sky?”
Then skip the football; you need a dose of picigin! This pseudo-volleyball has contestants flail and dive across knee-high waters to swat at a shaved tennis ball, which isn’t allowed to succumb to gravity. When the ball hits the water (or ground, if you’re a madman), the game ends.
Split’s residents claim the sport as their own; a Dalmatian version of quidditch. Splićani also think their shallow beach “Bačvice” is the only place to play the sport. Croatia has plenty of shallow beaches to choose from.
The city of Split hosts a World Championship in Picigin every June.
Donkey Races
Take a look at the wall of white in Cristiano Ronaldo's mouth. Remind you of anything? A horse's teeth — or an ass's, to be precise. Would you rather look at an actual donkey than a man with a donkey-like face?
Well, you’re in luck. A few locations around Croatia have annual donkey races, known as “Trke Tovara”.
The sport features… well… a donkey race. Pretty simple.
Sukošan holds the oldest organized version of this hairy event, taking place this year on August 11. Ditto Tisno, near Šibenik.
But perhaps the most unique variant happens in the village of Sali on Dugi Otok, which incorporates its Donkey Races into its annual three-day festival, called “Saljske Užance.” The first two days are a bonanza of fish, food, drinks — and more drinks — and music. Then on the final day, the asses line up and race.
Better than watching some dudes chase after a ball, no?
Frog Jumping
Nobody really heads the ball into goal properly anymore, so get your jumping fix elsewhere.
The small town of Lokve holds an annual Frog Jumping competition every spring, often in late April or early May.
The “Frog’s Night” is a nod to the town’s unique position amid lakes, earning locals the unfortunate nickname “Frog People.”
The Frog People take the competition seriously, pre-picking competitors to ensure locals do not cheat by training their frogs.
Live long enough with the marooned loneliness that comes with island life, add a touch of poverty and you’ll discover absurd ways to pass the time.
Enter Plojke, a traditional Hvar game involving seven palm tree seeds, a rock and a window ledge. The rules are simple:
both players line up their seeds along the back ledge of the window, then slide a rock across to knock their opponents’ seeds off.
It may sound banal, until you’ve seen the fervor with which children slide their rocks at a bunch of seeds. It’s about as exciting as watching England play.
Cheese Rolling
Tired of seeing football players flailing and rolling in mock agony, hoping to draw a booking [coughItalycough]? How about rolling cheese instead?
Dalmatians apparently take the “wheel” in “wheel of cheese” seriously.
TCN’s founder and dear leader Paul first witnessed this spectacle, and chronicled the high-lactose sport with a euphoria befitting a man of generous appetites.
A group from Brač gifted a group from Jelsa a wheel of homemade cheese during an impromptu gathering.
“When you give someone cheese, it seems, you don’t just give it to be eaten,” Paul wrote. “In order to celebrate the cheese and its perfect round shape, you indulge in a little cheese rolling.”
The curious spectacle involved clearing a space to jettison the cheese across the floor, testing to see if the wheel was perfectly round by maintaining a straight line without any wabbles. And when it passes muster?
“The cheese shot across the restaurant floor in a straight line to wild applause,” he wrote.
The “sport” isn’t to be confused with the berserk competition held in Gloucester, UK, in which competitors risk life and limb scrambling down the steep, marshy Cooper’s Hill after a slab of cheese.
This variation, like most things in Croatia, is more carefree and won’t send you to the hospital.
Who’s playing again? Oh, who cares! Pass the cheese.