Sport and IR in the socialist Yugoslavia

With previous two blogs, involvement of sport with international relations, I’ll end up with an example of sport and IR within socialist Yugoslavia.

Former Yugoslavia has positioned in the very small frame between clashing ideologies (capitalism and communism) with attempt to find a “third’’ way by creating the Non-Aligned Movement.[1] Lazic stated about Yugoslav way “was supposed to mean ‘neither the East nor the West’ but in reality it was a compound: both the East and the West”.[2]    Yugoslavia developed a peaceful coexistence doctrine strongly supported by the NAM. This has root from IR constellation in the 1954-55, which Bogetic explained as anequidistant constellation with blocs.[3]


During the Cold War era, Yugoslavia remained not aligned to either the US or USSR, which allowed it to experiment with the best of both worlds in terms of sports development- the worker-athletes model (USSR) and the student-athlete model (USA).[4]  The institutional support was granted to both models on all levels, including the educational system, the military, and public service. Back then, gender, racial, ethnicity, and religion was taken into account and inclusivity was sometimes excessive.[5] At the institutional level, the situation was slightly different as political background (commitments to the party) was a determining factor to be involved as a stakeholder in sports organization.[6]

Regardless of the high level of political involvement, sport system in Yugoslavia reaped the benefits of that development. A philosophical approach existed in former Yugoslavia at that time; participation in sports (physical education, professional and recreational) was well structured (organized from national to community level) and open to everyone with focus on educational, health and community development aspects which could be described by the philosopher Isocrates, who stated in the Antidosis, about importance of training the minds as well (not only the body) of athletes in order to be prepared for completions (life?):

“Are twin arts; parallel and complementary- by which their master prepare the mind to become more intelligent and the body become more serviceable, not separating sharply to kinds of education, but using similar methods of instruction, exercise, and other form of discipline. Watching over them and training them in this manner, both the teachers of gymnastic and the teachers of discourse are able to advance their pupils to a point where they are better men and where they are stronger in their thinking or in use of their bodies”[7]


Concluding remarks

The work showed that the sport secured position as a tool within IR, but also noted that role is not a crucial one. A more common example is that of sports events becomes a reflection of relations in the global arena of IR (ping-pong diplomacy or boycotts). Blocs through elite sport tried to demonstrate superiority and to indicate advantages in comparison to the rival side. Global politics shape use of sports.

Socialist Yugoslavia through the welfare system inherited sport as a part of the culture of citizens, spreading the values ​​of work, responsibility, readiness and team spirit. Amateur and school sport, were used for the development of the sport for all, and elite sport was a reflection of the position of Yugoslavia in the arena of IR. The way in which leadership at the time were operating between blocs, strongly relied on both East and West organizational specificity creating an original system of sport as a reflection of the Yugoslav position within global arena of IR.



[1] Lothi, L. (2014). The non-aligned: apart from and still within the Cold War. Edited by: Miskovic, N., Fischer-Tine, H., Boskovska, N. in The Non-Aligned Movement and the Cold War. Routledge.

[2] Lazic, M. (2003). ’’Serbia: a Part of Both the East and the West?“. Sociologija XLV (3): 193-216.

[3] Bogetić, D. (2000). Jugoslavija i Zapad 1952-1955. Jugoslovensko pribli-žavanje NATO. Beograd: Službeni list SRJ (Yugoslavia and the West 1952-1955. Belgrade). p. 177.

[4] Cristoph Bertling, (2007). The Loss of Profit? “The Rise of Professionalism in the Olympic Movement and the Consequences for National Sport Systems”, Journal of Olympic History 15, No. 2.

[5] Socialist principles introduced pragmatic plans to ensure equal representation of Yugoslav citizens no matter of religion, ethnical, class or any other differences,

[6] Sevic Z. and Rabrenovic, A. (1999). Civil Service of Yugoslavia: Tradition vs. Transition, in T. Verheijen and A. Kotchegura, eds. (1999.) Comparative Civil Service Systems: Central and Eastern Europe, Aldershot: Edward Elgar, pp. 47-82.

[7] Isocrates, with an English translation done by George Nolin, (1929). vols 3. London and New York, vol II, pp. 289, 291


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