Lithuanian football team in Paris in 1924On 16 February 1918, Lithuania declared independence. In 1919, sports organisations and clubs started emerging in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Sports League was founded in 1922, and it acquired and used the exclusive right to represent Lithuania at the Olympic Games. Lithuanian athletes first participated in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924.

The public sports movement spread throughout Lithuania: more sports organisations were established, their activities increased, and national athletes participated in competitions organised abroad, as well as in Lithuania. The need therefore emerged for the legal regulation of the sports system. In 1932, the first Law on Physical Education, which established the first state institute for sports management – the Chamber of Physical Education, was adopted. The Chamber of Physical Education began functioning in Kaunas on 1 October 1932. Antanas Jurgelionis became its first director.

Antanas Jurgelionis The adoption of the Law on Physical Education and the establishment of a state institute for sports shows that the development of physical education and sports came under the care of the state as evidenced by the increasing amount of financial state aid for sports, the beginning of the development of a national system of physical education, the training of physical education and sports specialists, the provision of physical education in schools, the elevation of the level of public fitness to a state concern. During that period, Lithuanian athletes won their first awards on the international stage: the Lithuanian men’s basketball team became the European champion in 1937 and 1939 and the Lithuanian women’s basketball team won silver medals at the European Women’s Basketball Championship in 1938.

The Sovietisation which started in Lithuania after its annexation by the USSR in 1940–1941 did not bypass physical education and sports: international sports relations were severed, the activities of the National Olympic Committee and the sports federations that enjoyed international recognition were suspended, the national system of management of physical education and sports was re-organised according to the Soviet model, and the Chamber of Physical Education was replaced by the Committee of Physical Education and Sports under the Council of People’s Commissars of the Lithuanian SSR.

After the beginning of World War II and the subsequent occupation of Lithuania by the Germans, the organisation of the sports movement was implemented on the same principle as in pre-war Lithuania. Sports activities, however, were complicated considerably by the lack of sports facilities, equipment, and funds and by the frequent mobilisations of young people for the Wehrmacht. Unfortunately, the athletes were also affected by Hitler’s policy of genocide: more than one was sent to the concentration camps. Lithuania also experienced great losses when part of the sports community emigrated to the West because of the fear of repression.

In 1945, when from the very first post-war days Lithuania once again found itself under the boot of the totalitarian regime of Stalin, the Soviet system of physical education and sports, the formation of which was started in 1940–1941, was restored and further reinforced. Lithuanian sports became part of the USSR’s collectivised system with rigid centralised collective planning and management. The most important provisions and key decisions regarding the development of physical education and sports were made by top USSR party and state bodies. The socialist system intended to use physical education and sports as one of the means to bring the public together to address political, cultural and economic issues.

After Stalin’s death, democratisation slowly took pace, and in the fifties attempts were made to re-organise the system of management of physical education and sports. On the whole, when the Soviet physical education system was being developed, particular attention was focused on the management structure. Multiple changes in the basics of management of physical education and sports organisations, without a doubt, prevented the more or less consistent development of physical education and sports.

Algirdas Šocikas (on the right)Fifty years of annexation and occupation and World War II brought a lot of distress and troubles to the entire nation of Lithuania and, of course, to sports. Post-war upheavals destroyed the lives of many Lithuanian physical education and sports specialists and athletes. Some left for the West, and others were deported to Siberia or died in resistance struggles. Athletes who returned from exile in Siberia were not allowed to take part in foreign competitions. Sports during the period of occupation, however, was one of the few things that helped sustain the spirit of the nation, the Lithuanian language, and the belief in the restoration of independence through the sincere and professional efforts of athletes and sports specialists. The fights of the boxer Algirdas Šocikas and his opponent Nikolaj Koroliov, the matches between Kaunas’s Žalgiris basketball team and Moscow’s CSKA always meant much more for the Lithuanian people than just sports.

During the Soviet period, while formally implementing official policy, Lithuanian sports organisations, sports managers, and specialists also managed to put into practice a real, individual sports policy which served the interests of Lithuania. Therefore, Lithuanian sports did not decline under the Soviet regime, and Lithuanian athletes achieved many significant victories on the international stage. Unfortunately, the Lithuanians could participate in the Olympic Games, and in the world and European championships only as members of the USSR teams. In order to be admitted to one of these teams, the achievement of the best results in sports was not always enough. After 1952, however, Lithuanian athletes managed to take part in all the Olympic Games and win medals. During the fifty years of occupation, 23 Lithuanian athletes became Olympic champions, and 19 silver and 15 bronze medals were won.

After the restoration of the independence of Lithuania on 11 March 1990, the Committee of Physical Education and Sports of that time and the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee (LNOC), which was restored on 11 December 1988, immediately announced a joint appeal to Lithuanian athletes and trainers, asking them not to participate in the USSR championships or on the USSR teams. In addition to the economic blockade, the USSR launched a sports blockade against Lithuania, which continued until the late autumn of 1991.

Gradually, Lithuania began shifting to the world sports management model. In April 1990, the Committee of Physical Education and Sports was replaced by the Department of Physical Education and Sports under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (DPES). Together, the DPES and the LNOC started reforming the Lithuanian sports system and making international contacts. A club system was developed according to the example of Western countries, the federations for various branches of sports gained total independence, and new public sports organisations were founded: the Paralympic Committee, the Lithuanian Union of Sports Federations, the Lithuanian “Sports for All” Association, etc. The Law on Physical Education and Sports of the Republic of Lithuania adopted in 1995 became the basis for the legal regulation of sports. Over the following decade, this law became a little outdated, and thus taking into account the new needs and current issues, an amendment to the Law on Physical Education and Sports of the Republic of Lithuania was adopted in 2008.

The sports community began addressing the most important issues in Lithuanian sports at joint forums — sports congresses. In 2005, the 4th Lithuanian Sports Congress adopted and approved a strategy for Lithuanian physical education and sports for the period ending in 2015.

Olympic Champion Romas Ubartas in Barcelona in 1992Despite the complicated restructuring of the sports system over the past years, it can be stated that the Lithuanian sports system is functioning efficiently. This is proved by the achievements of Lithuanian athletes. Since the restoration of independence, Lithuanian athletes have not once returned from the Summer Olympic Games without medals. At the Summer Olympic Games, they have won 16 medals: four gold, four silver, and eight bronze (the 12 medals of the basketball players are counted as one here). Every year Lithuanian athletes win about two and a half hundred medals at the European and world championships for different age groups. Lithuanian students won nine medals at the World Universiades. Lithuanian athletes brought 30 medals (four gold, 11 silver, and 15 bronze) from the Paralympic Games and 19 medals from the Deaf Games. About 10 world and European championships are hosted in Lithuania every year. The biggest and most important international event that will be hosted by Lithuania is the Men’s European Basketball Championship 2011. The Programme for the Construction and Renovation of Sports Facilities is being carried out with increasing intensity.

After a social survey was conducted in Lithuania in 2007, it became clear that almost one-third of people exercise on their own and every sixth person attends organised sports sessions. At present, elevating the role of physical education in modern society is one of the most crucial priorities for the Department of Physical Education and Sports.

Last updated: 25-08-2017