The Race, Banja Aleksinacka, Zajechar, Serbia, by Martin Linkov (CC 2.0)
Since ancient times, as reflected in the first recorded Olympic Games held in 776 B.C. in Greece, engagement in sports has been held in high regard across cultures as it demonstrates high ideals and showcases the remarkable results that can be derived from the union of mind, body and spirit in a noble athletic pursuit.
As time progressed through the ensuing centuries during which sports became integrated into various aspects of human society from grade schools to professional sports teams and international competitions, the paradigm of sports came to embrace the development of well respected values including fairness, discipline, tolerance, collaboration, solidarity and social integration.
Sports then reached the pinnacle of universal popularity due to its broad outreach and availability in one form or another to everyone in every society in every country around the world who would like to have fun while deriving enormous health benefits.
Today, unforgettable outdoor adventures set among the most beautiful landscapes and seascapes throughout the Balkans attract sport enthusiasts from all over the world who plan their long awaited holidays to learn a new sport or indulge in their favourite sports activities such as cycling, parasailing, ice skating, horse-back riding, fishing, downhill and cross-country skiing, golf, hang gliding, Nordic walking, mountain biking, sailing, swimming, hiking, snorkelling, surfing, river rafting, scuba diving and mountain climbing, just to name a few.
Destinations throughout the Balkans are continually investing in sport tourism infrastructure especially designed for visiting sports enthusiasts while maintaining their commitment to sustainable tourism as well as respect for the environment and the protection of natural resources which serve as the sine qua non of sport tourism. More than ever before, throughout the region you will find visitor information centres, hostelry owners, mobile applications and numerous other easily accessible data sources which furnish up to date information and essential maps that illustrate the convenient locations of sports equipment rental facilities; marinas, ports and docking facilities for aquatic sports; dedicated routes or paths for terrestrial sports; shower and dressing facilities; emergency medical services; restaurants and overnight accommodations for athletes en route during extended sports journeys, and more. This readily available information network has been specially designed so that tourists spend less time accessing their sports needs and more of their treasured holiday time enjoying their sports adventures from which lifelong memories are made.
Of course, Balkan sport tourism also embraces the throng of international sports enthusiasts who, from time to time, have the opportunity to travel and watch some of the best athletes in the world compete in exciting events such as the Olympic Games as well as the Balkan Games that also serve to inspire new generations of young athletes who dream about their future.
The Balkan Games are a multi-sport event, highlighting track and field as well as cross-country sports with participants from all of the Balkan nations. The Games were first organised unofficially by the Hellenic Amateur Athletic Association in Athens in 1929. The following year the Balkan Games became formalised and, since then, they have been conducted regularly in the various Balkan countries on a rotating basis except during World War II and the post-war period. Over the years, the presence at these Games of Olympic Champions and world record holders such as Iolanda Balas, Viorica Viscopelanou, Lia Manoliou, Jelica Pavlicic, Luciano Susani and Christos Papanikolaou has attracted eager sports tourists and aspiring athletes while benefitting the local economies hosting the Games. More importantly, however, these Games reflect a far more meaningful contribution in the form of social benefits to regional cooperation, peace and cross-cultural understanding.
Regardless of which type of sport tourist one might be, the Balkans offer to everyone the thrill of the sport itself, the discovery of the surrounding natural beauty that evolves throughout the seasons and welcoming hospitality at the end of each memorable day.