When Lithuania gained freedom from the Soviet Union, the governance of sports was taken over by the Department of Physical Education and Sports. The department is not only responsible for administering various sports disciplines but also caters to their physical education in institutions.
The formal organisation and development of sports disciplines have paved the way for Lithuania to participate in various international sports, including their summer and winter Olympics.
Lithuania has numerous sports federations for Olympics, and non-Olympic sports and an organisation was established in 1993 for all the sports. Lithuania also has an organisation dedicated to promoting physical education and encouraging a healthy lifestyle among locals.
Here is a brief account of five of the most popular sports in Lithuania.
Basketball In Lithuania
While the rest of Europe is passionate about football more than any other sport, Lithuanians love basketball the most. People of all ages, professions and levels enjoy basketball more than any other sport.
The Lithuanian basketball team is also the country’s most successful team and receives immense love and respect from the locals. Whenever the team heads off to play a match against any other country, it is hailed highly by the people. The team currently ranks 8th in the World FIBA rankings.
The national team won the European Basketball Championship thrice in 1937, 1939 and 2003. The team has also successfully participated at the EuroBasket and won bronze in 2007 and silver medals in 1995, 2013 and 2015. The team also won a bronze medal at the World Championship in 2010.
The national team’s participation in the Olympics is also mention-worthy, as the team won bronze in 1992m 1996 and 2000. The team also finished in fourth place in 2004 and 2008. Lithuania’s U-19 team won the European Championship and secured the second position in the World Championship in 2003.
Club basketball is also quite popular in the country, with BC Zalgiris currently the most successful club. The club won the EuroLeague in 1999 and the Euro Cup a year earlier. The club also secured third place in the EuroLeague in 2018. Many Lithuanian basketball players have played in the NBA as well, including Darius Songaila, Donatas Motiejūnas, and Jonas Valančiūnas, among others.
Football In Lithuania
The second most popular sport in Lithuania is football. Like the rest of the world, Lithuanians like to watch and play football. While the majority is enamoured with basketball, many people have a soft spot for football as well.
Football players from the region were the first athletes to take part in international competitions, as the team played at the Olympics in 1924 and then the World Cup in 1938. Until Lithuania was under Soviet rule, football remained a popular sport as the local club FK Zalgiris was highly successful.
When the country got independence, the national team participated in the World Cup qualifiers in 1998 and secured third place. Lithuania is currently placed at 144 in the World FIFA rankings. The highest ranking that the team achieved was 37th in 2008.
Football is also played at the club level in Lithuania. The top league is A Liga. However, to date, no team has reached the group stage for any EUFA tournament. At the same time, many Lithuanian football layers have successfully played in various European football leagues, including Edgaras Jankauskas for FC Porto and Deividas Šemberas for CSKA, among others.
Rugby In Lithuania
Another popular sport in Lithuania is rugby. The sport was introduced in the 1960s as teams were established in Kaunas and Vilnius. However, in the past two decades, Siauliai in northern Lithuania has become the centre for rugby in the country.
Two of the strongest rugby teams in the country are located in the city, namely Šiauliai BaltRex and the reigning champions, the Šiauliai Vairas-Jupoja. Overall, Lithuania has 13 rugby clubs and more than 1600 rugby players,
The national rugby team, nicknamed The Knights, participates in the 2A division of European Rugby. It is one of the strongest tier 3 teams in the region and holds the record of eighteen consecutive international wins.
Athletics In Lithuania
Next up is athletics. Earlier, we mentioned the importance of physical education and a healthy lifestyle. It is reflected in the success achieved by Lithuanian athletes in the Olympics. Lithuanians have won seven medals in the World Championships, eleven medals in the Olympics and fourteen at European Championships in various disciplines.
The most successful has been discus throwing, as Virglijus Alekna from Lithuania has won two Olympic gold medals and two world championships for the country. He is followed by Romas Ubartas, who has also won a gold medal at the Olympics.
Cycling In Lithuania
The last sport on our list is cycling, a popular physical activity in the country. Lithuanian professional cyclists have also performed well in various contests and world championships. In this regard, the women cyclists’ performance has exceeded the men’s as the country’s sports history features many successful women cyclists since its independence. Lithuanian cyclists Diana Cepelienė and Zita Urbonaitė secured third place in the Women’s Challenge in 1991.
Other notable female cyclists include twins Rasa and Jolanta Polikeviciute. Rasa won the World Road Race Championship in 2001, while Edita Pučinskaitė and Diana Žiliūtė won the contest in 1999 and 1994, respectively. In recent years, the most successful cyclist in Lithuania is Simona Krupeckaite.
Lithuania has a formal cycling program for girls that organises a race at the end. The program has greatly contributed to developing young talent.