Sport is part of our national identity and culture
Member of the European Union since 2004, Slovenia is a precursor in the conduct of joint policies “sport and culture”. Matjaž Han, Slovenian Minister of Economy, Tourism and Sports explains the reasons for this positioning.
What links do you make between culture and sport?
The inter-sectoral approach is crucial to promote cultural heritage and further enhance physical activities. This is one of the reasons why the Ministry of the Economy, Tourism and Sport was established at the beginning of this year. The decision to link sport with the economy and tourism for the first time in Slovenian history was an important milestone that will help Slovenia further explore the synergies in these fields. Our champions like cyclist Tadej Pogačar, basketball player Luka Dončič or climber Janja Garnbret are our greatest ambassadors. I believe there are many ways of connecting those areas that will bring additional benefits for all of them.
Both culture and sport are deeply rooted in our society and influence and reflect one another. We often say that Slovenia is a country of champions and that sport is in our blood. Slovenians are second in the world in terms of Olympic medals won per capita. Top athletic achievements, outstanding nature, developed infrastructure, and physical education in schools contribute to our lifelong connection to sports. Sport is a part of our national identity and culture.
It is almost proverbial that every Slovenian needs to climb our highest peak Triglav, that is represented in our national coat-of-arms. The Slovenian mountains’ rugged terrain and harsh climate have historically served as a symbol of the country’s resilience and determination, and the beauty of the mountains has been celebrated in art, literature, and music.
Another example is Lipica stud farm with The Lipica Stud Farm Riding School. The Lipica Stud Farm is the original stud farm of one of the oldest cultural horse breeds – the Lipizzan horse. Today under monumental protection, the area of the Lipica Stud Farm encompasses the cultivated Karst landscape, the herd of horses of the Lipizzan breed, and the architectural and artistic heritage.
Sports Day, celebrated every September 23, is a public holiday in Slovenia, a unique case in Europe. What will be the theme this year?
The theme for 2023 will be sports tourism. Through promotion, especially connected to sports events and sports ambassadors, we aim to raise the visibility and overall image of Slovenia as an active, green, healthy, and sporty destination. Slovenia is a great tourist destination for active holidays and athletes’ training; it is also known for hosting some major sporting events.
Slovenian tourism offers unique experiences not available anywhere else in the world. We often connect physical activity with unique natural and cultural heritage and Slovenian history. Let me give just a few examples. The kayaking adventure through the underground of Mount Peca offers an underground adventure in which tourists row through the flooded tunnels of the largest lead and zinc mine in this part of Europe, with 350-year of history.
The “Slovenia Green Gourmet Route” invites guests to ride during 11 days along the new cycling route, which passes through destinations offers culinary delights in sustainable restaurants, including Michelin-starred restaurants. Another example is the “Juliana Trail”, a 267-km-long trail around the Julian Alps. The trail offers views of Triglav from nearly all directions. The guests meet the history of the ironworks, see the hometowns of great Slovenian writers and poets, and get to know the significance of beekeeping once and today.
Overall, we can create unique and attractive tourism offerings. But we pay a lot of attention to ensure that the activities are sustainable in the long term.
“A holiday dedicated to sport every year”
You say that sport and culture are important aspects of your country’s identity. How do you best combine the two in your opinion?
That requires some creativity, collaboration, and planning. The already mentioned examples include recreational activities that highlight the country’s heritage. We also incorporate heritage elements into sporting events. The Kurents, traditional Slovenian mask, are always cheering for ski jumpers at Ski Jumping World Cup Finals.
The opening ceremony of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships Planica 2023 was also a great example. Some of the most insightful and internationally renowned Slovenian performers demonstrated how different generations and styles can create together. The founders of the retro avant-garde art movement, Laibach, were performing an old Slovenian national song; there were traditional Saša Avsenika and the world-famous producer of electronic music, DJ Umek. This event with a strong cultural note had a much greater outreach than just the cultural event on its own could have.
With the activities now joined under the same ministry, we will further enhance a healthy and active lifestyle as part of our way of life and raise awareness about our cultural and natural elements.