Page last updated at: Mon, 10 May 2010 12:03 PM BST Printable version

The rise of Spanish sport

by Sergio Dominguez

racing car

The Football World Cup is coming very soon, and we are all getting ready to enjoy this great sporting event.

We book our days off, we prepare our snacks and drinks and we bet a few of our pennies on the national team of our choice.

Though we may feel tempted to bet on England, if we have a quick look at the odds we will realise Spain are the favourites.

This may not be surprising to you, they won the last European Championships, after all.

However, four years ago Spain had basically the same squad, yet few people were so confident they would win.

They had always been the ‘underachievers’, right?

Spain - sporting superpower?

But something has changed in Spain. Spanish football is now finally enjoying success, and it is not alone.

Both in individual disciplines and in team sports, Spain is now a major sporting world power.

In tennis, Spain has won four of the last nine Davies Cups, while Rafael Nadal, the current face of Spanish tennis, has at the age of 23 won six Grand Slam singles titles, the 2008 Olympic gold medal in singles and 17 ATP Masters Series tournaments.

In basketball, the Spanish national team prevailed in the last Eurobasket and World Cup competitions, while most of its players are currently playing for NBA teams, including Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol, who regularly plays the All-Star games and won the prestigious NBA championships last year.

In Formula One, Fernando Alonso ended Michael Schumacher’s monopoly a few years ago with two championships, gave us one of the most controversial F1 seasons in memory whilst at McLaren, and now works for his former rival Ferrari.


In cycling, Spain has become the supreme power as Spanish cyclists have won the Tour de France for the last four years.

In cycling, Spain has become the supreme power as Spanish cyclists have won the Tour de France for the last four years.


Swimming, handball and motorcycling also have the presence of Spanish champions.

The Spanish Olympic team has moved six positions up in the world ranking in the last four years, from 15th to 9th, and in the Beijing Olympics they won more medals than ever before, excluding the Barcelona games.

All these events have happened during the last five years. Surely all this can’t be a matter of chance? One has to wonder what their secret is.

Planning is the key

The answer is meticulous planning.

These successes are explained by a sports policy that has been rigourously and intensively applied at every level of sport, from the very youngest through to those who are blessed, not only with a competitive character, but also with great cultural and educational value.

It all started with the 1992 Summer Olympics, hosted in Barcelona.

The games promoted a great variety of sports in the country. That enthusiasm for sports would affect a whole generation and continues to flourish today. Barcelona was the catalyst, concrete policies did the rest.

Apart from the teaching and training done by schools, universities, city councils and other public institutions, the Spanish government runs the so-called Plan ADO (Association of Olympic Sports), aimed at preparing athletes, an initiative which is producing significant results.

This year the ADO programme has seen a 13% increase in its budget. This increase is due to marked goals that the association must fulfill.

When it comes to team sports, decisive and organised support is offered to the youngest competitors. The under-20, under-19 and under-18 football teams, for example, are all usually in the medals.

The same goes for the basketball teams; their squads remain largely un-changed as they grow older, so when the national football and basketball teams play their respective competitions, the players that form those teams are familiar with each other and know how to play as a team.

In many cases they are not just colleagues, but friends. This chemistry is decisive in creating a good environment and promoting the attractive team play Spain is famous for and which is so successful.


The promotion of sports as a whole, linked to the promotion of Spain as a major sports world power, encourages people to follow the trend, snowballing the importance of sporting success as a result, but the process is far from finished.


Only a few weeks ago Alejandro Blanco, president of the COE (Spanish Olympic Committee), said Spain had to “exploit the ‘Spanish sport’ brand”.


For the last three years, the COE has put into practice a scheme to promote sport values among primary students, where they are able to talk to sportsmen and women about these values first hand.

The rise of Spanish sport is not a mere coincidence. There has been careful planning, promoting and budgeting going on for the last two decades and it is finally paying off.

Grand ideas complemented with practical solutions. Short term, short-lived policies have been replaced by a more long-term approach, which has implanted a sports culture that is sure to benefit Spain for a very long time. Other nations would do well to take notice.

The good news for England and Great Britain is that just as all this started with the Barcelona Olympics, we could start our own sports revolution with 2012’s London Olympics. If we do so, perhaps in 2030 we may be talking about the rise of British sports.



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