July 20, 2021 – Croatian Olympic Committee Secretary-General Siniša Krajač revealed the main challenges that the COC and he personally will face in his current term as the first operative of the umbrella sports association and what we can expect from Croatia in Tokyo this summer.
In an interview with Sportske Novosti, Siniša Krajač revealed to editor-in-chief Robert Šola that demography is a burning national problem and a potentially big problem for the future of Croatian sport because “the base from which we draw sports talents is getting smaller.” In this context, he also mentioned the importance of constant investment in sports, especially in sports at the local level, “where it all starts,” that is – where future top athletes come to us to a large extent. He spoke with a lot of passion about team sports and pointed out that Croatia is a sports nation with great achievements in individual sports.
The Olympic Games (July 23 – August 8) are an indispensable topic when Croatian athletes are heading to Tokyo every day. With a strong desire for all our representatives to stay healthy during the Games, the Secretary-General estimated the number of Olympic medals in Tokyo, which ranges from five to seven medals. Siniša Krajač is very optimistic about Tokyo, although a slightly smaller number of athletes will represent Croatia.
“We are going for 5 to 7 medals: Alarms are set in sports, but the situation is not tragic, in a small base of the sports active population we have no right to drop a single talented child,” writes Robert Šola, editor-in-chief of SN.
Most of the Croatian athletes are already in Tokyo, and the rest will follow them very soon.
“A positive case on a plane can mean goodbye to an athlete and everything they have worked and prepared for years to be at the peak of their career in Tokyo. But, unfortunately, that cannot be changed; Japan has their own approach to everything that has to do with COVID,” says Siniša Krajač, who has acted as Secretary-General Secretary of the Croatian Olympic Committee for two months now.
Croatia will have the smallest number of athletes at the Games since Barcelona. Should we be worried?
“As I emphasized in my first interviews after I became Secretary-General, we need to worry about the fact that our sport is in decline and that there is a real danger that this decline will take a more vertical direction than we have today. Not because we are not doing well, or because we do not care about sports, but also because we have an obvious shortage of coaches and young people who play sports. We must all be aware that only about 400,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 19 live in the country at the moment. It is a minimal base, and we have to draw future Olympic winners, medalists, and participants. In such a small base, we have almost no right to drop a single talented child, which means that we must provide our children with optimal conditions for playing sports. Of course, as a state, we must work on the demographics of society because the trend is by no means good.”
Unfortunately, Croatia has dealt with demography issues for years, but taking care of sports is not even close to good. Only 59 athletes at the Games also bring a lot of concern?
“The handball players were a second or two away from the Games; if they were in Tokyo, the numbers would already be similar to those in Rio. And we will agree that handball players have a place at the Games. I am also sorry for the basketball players; we constantly hope that basketball will rise and return to where it belongs. But I am aware of the problems we have in sports; I would say that the alarm is already burning and that there is no tragedy. And this number of athletes in Tokyo is respectable and has a high quality.”
How can the COC help address such issues?
“We are specific in ourselves because we have an extensive range of activities. Top sport, local sport and recreation, are our three core activities. Athletes, however, are created at the local level, it is clear to everyone in the sport. And we, as the COC, have long been aware of this. I would say that the state is aware of that as well. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has increased allocations for local sports. Both the state and the COC encourage local communities to invest more in sports; we are working on that synergy without which there can be no results. We work to the maximum to bring back to local communities sports that were specific in their environment, in which they had top results. Times are changing, but this tradition in local communities is still strong, and I am convinced that a lot can be done and returned to the old, and even for the better.”
Siniša Krajač talked about team sports with a lot of passion, but also turned to individual sports.
“I would by no means put individual sports in second; we have risen strongly in them, laid a healthy foundation, they bring us medals, but also children who enjoy doing these sports. Judo has a great run, karate, and taekwondo too, and there are plenty more good examples.”
Unfortunately, some claim that investing in sports is a waste of money?
“Investing in sports cannot be a waste of money; it can only be a great investment. Sport certainly contributes far more to society and the common good than we invest in it. This can be proven through many parameters. We are evidently falling for several health issues. We have an excessive percentage of obese and inactive children, which is probably the most dangerous and saddest thing for any nation and its health. We don’t have enough physical activities in schools; some don’t even have gyms. And it’s something that can’t be resolved overnight, but it has to start to be addressed. And that systematically. Let’s invest in sports because there is no greater investment in health. We as a state must understand that. Sport also brings numerous economic privileges. With the matches come athletes, spectators, foreign clubs come to the preparations … Not to repeat that athletes are our greatest ambassadors in the world, and we know they are.”
How many medals are expected at the Games?
“Five to seven. I wouldn’t want to name what those medals are; I don’t want to pressure anyone. In Tokyo, the conditions for athletes will be truly extraordinary, far different from those they are used to. Such conditions will require quick adaptation, and our athletes are such that they do their best in the most difficult moments, to surprise when it is least expected. We have a talent for adaptation, I would say perhaps the best in the world because we are such a nation. After all, we are masters of improvisation. Our athletes know what awaits them. The Americans waited at the airport for six hours upon arrival to be released. On the other hand, ours did not sleep for 40 hours, except for a little on the plane. And when you land, there are problems, waiting, testing, uncertainty, completed or unfilled applications.”
And at the end of it all, no fans?
“Sport is also played for the sake of spectators, but health should be a priority at this moment. The games always have a special atmosphere in the village, in the host city, in the indescribable atmosphere that reigns in the halls and stadiums. Unfortunately, now that is not the case … But the Games will be held; sports will not be surrendered.”
You can read the full interview HERE.
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