The French handball players have an appointment Monday, January 16 with the Slovenian selection, for their last match of the first round of the World Handball Championships in Sweden and Poland. A tough opponent for the Blues, who will try to get back on the podium of the best handball nations, as in 2017.
In addition to this bronze medal gleaned by Slovenian handball players in France six years ago, several athletes from this country of 2 million inhabitants have distinguished themselves in their discipline at the world level, such as Tadej Pogacar, 24 years old and already double winner of the Tour de France (2020 and 2021), as well as his friend Primoz Roglic, 33, triple winner of the Tour of Spain (2019, 2020 and 2021).
A true prodigy of international basketball, Luka Doncic, 23, has also been performing thunderously for three years in the NBA, the very high American league. “Luka Magic” has already taken his selection to the top of Europe in 2017… at the age of 18. Since then, he has been considered one of the best basketball players, and has an unprecedented aura in Slovenia.
The country, which has a few alpine peaks, finally has a large pool of winter sports athletes. Alpine skiers Ilka Stuhec and Tina Maze have two Olympic gold medals in Sochi in 2014 and two world titles.
Massification of sport in Yugoslavia
This Slovenian tradition is the vestige of communist politics in the former Yugoslavia, where sporting activities occupied an important place. As early as 1945, Marshal Tito’s regime launched the Yugoslav Physical Culture Council, which later became the Yugoslav Physical Culture Federation, with a “absolute priority placed on the massification of the practice” in the direction of “amateur sports, (of the) young and (of the) workers “, explains Loïc Trégourès, author of an article on “sport in Yugoslavia, anatomy of a political project” (1).
The communist regime launches five-year plans for the construction of infrastructures throughout the territory. Marshal Tito also glorifies the performance of Yugoslav athletes at the international level, lever of influence and distinction, while Yugoslavia broke with the USSR from 1948 and gradually joined the “non-aligned” camp. “In the days of Yugoslavia, an Olympic medalist had the right to a salary, an apartment or a car”, underlines a file produced by The Team.
A sports monitoring program
Despite the fall of the dictatorship, sport remains one of the main subjects of the Slovenian education system. School children are also subjected to annual sets of aptitude tests, administered by the government. This device, called SLOfit, was created in 1980 “to better support physical education teachers responsible for guiding the motor development of their students”, explains the program’s website.
From now on, all the data collected is also used to “promote physical activities adapted to all generations of citizens”. In turn, the government has unpublished data (physical development, motor capacity) on the sporting potential of young Slovenians. And can use it to find and support the most promising.
But this sporting idyll also comes with its share of controversy. In 2019, a cyclist, Kristjan Koren, and a manager, Borut Bozic, were arrested after a doping investigation. Their names had been found in the files of a German doctor, Mark Schmidt, suspected of being at the head of a vast doping network. Other top Slovenian riders, such as Tadej Valjavec and Janez Brajkovic, are also implicated in similar cases.