Sports in Bulgaria
Sportswise, there is little difference between Bulgaria and most of the other countries I visited after Christmas. Football is sport number one, also here. Much to the disappointment of the Bulgarians, the national team did not manage to qualify for the European Championships which will be held in Switzerland and Austria this year. Fortunately, Bulgaria is not placing its bets on football alone. Bulgaria is used to collecting honorary metal in figure skating, chess and men`s volleyball.
The major sport clubs Bulgaria have rather uncreative names, usually similar to the ones in Russia. CSKA and Locomotiv are popular prefixes, which are simply followed by the city or region the club originates from. CSKA is an abbreviation that indicates that the team started out as a soldiers` club, while Locomotiv is an example of how teams were named after production tools that were held in high esteem during the communist area. Locomotiv in Bulgarian means nothing different from the English word Locomotiv. Some other Bulgarian teams were renamed after the fall of communism. Levski Sofia (previously known as Levski Spartak) is named after national hero Vasil Levski, an independence activist who organised the Bulgarian resistance against the Turkish oppression in the 19th century.
..recently gave up smoking to feel better
In the years following the fall of communism, sport lost its importance to the need to survive in the new capitalist economy. Tsvetelina (22) explains, `My parents were educated to be sportive and in good shape. Apart from practical advantages of being fit, those who excelled in sport had access to status and to international traveling. At the time, such favours were rare for ordinary people. People of my age have not even been forced to get themselves off the couch, but they are slowly starting to become more conscious about their health. I myself used to play volleyball for a long time, which is a very popular sport in Bulgaria. Much more so than basketball. Many people like to go jogging, especially young professionals who work in the medical domain. They are probably more aware of the need to live a healthy life than most others.`
Marian (32) does not call himself very sportive. Still, he is one of the few Bulgarians who takes a bike to work. And one of the few who don`t like football. Mityo (20, photo) does like football and supports both Levski from Sofia and Arsenal from the United Kingdom. Since England did not qualify for the European Championships, he will cheer for the national team of France instead. In spite of how much he likes watching football, he does not often play. `Just once a month with some friends. I am not a very sporty person`, he says. He cares to add that he is nevertheless trying to have a healthy lifestyle: `I quit smoking last year, together. My friends and I, all at the same time. Rising prices of cigarettes explain most of that move, but I prefer to do without anyway.`
Mityo is one out of many Bulgarian men who frequently go to the gym to exercise: `My university offers a variety of sports facilities for free, but I hardly ever use anything except the body building room. I don`t find body building a real sport, but I prefer it over doing nothing. Women go to the gym as well, but they are likely to work on their condition rather than muscular strength.`
Whether or not body building is a sport, the activity of lifting weights and building muscles does enjoy wide-spread popularity. Mityo only trains about twice every week at university and a few times at home. Compared to real weight-lifting addicts, that is nothing. There are plenty of Bulgarian men who spend entire days growing muscles, and they do not refrain from taking widely available `food supplements` to enhance the results of their fanatic labour.
Peter (22) explains that such practices have become less popular in recent years: `During the mid-1990s, body builders encompassed an entire social class. They used their physical appearance as a way to intimidate potential enemies of their employers: the self-proclaimed `business men` who took advantage of the collective confusion caused by the collapse of communism and made themselves a lot of enemies. The wide-shouldered, bald-headed bodyguards, dressed in training suits and known as Mutras, were the first to show themselves with mobile phones, which were still very rare at the time. They had cars that normal people could only dream of.`
Peter himself has also done quite some exercising but most of that aimed to serve him for another purpose: football. `I don`t play in competition matches anymore, just for fun with friends. My girlfriend has introduced me to hiking in the Bulgarian mountains, which I am starting to appreciate more and more. The Bulgarian mountains are beautiful and much cleaner than most of the lower terrains. They hide plenty of monasteries, old monuments and tombs and it is nice to hike from one to the next one. Wherever in Bulgaria you are, the mountains are never far away. In Sofia, for example, many people leave the city just for the weekend. They have mountains almost 3000 meters high at less than 100 kilometres away from the city. Perfect for hiking in summer, or for skiing in winter, even though I have never done that myself. I have a more personal favourite sport, which is to go fishing after a night out. Just on the side of the lake, with nothing to worry about. But I would not include fishing on the list of typical Bulgarian sports.`
photo | Link
to this article