Although Croatia has inherited a tradition of sporting competition dating back to Roman times, or medieval knights' tournaments, the beginnings of organised sport in the country can be traced to the late 19th century, when the first sports associations were founded. Hrvatski Sokol (Croatian Falcon) was founded in 1874, and soon spread throughout the country, becoming the largest, most popular organisation, promoting modern gymnastics and other branches of sport (cycling, fencing, equestrianism, athletics, skating, tennis, and so on).

By the early 20th century, there were more and more sportsmen and women in Croatia, and alongside the continuing high numbers of Sokol association members, who were united in the Hrvatski Sokolski Savez (Croatian Falcon Union) in 1907, special sports organisations were founded, particularly football organisations, while the umbrella organisation Hrvatski Športski Savez (Croatian Sports Association) was established in 1909. The further development of Croatian sport and its rich history have been linked primarily with the Olympian movement, and were organised by Franjo Bučar, starting in 1896, representing a century-long struggle for Croatian sporting independence. Olympic participants from Croatia competed under the Austrian, Italian and Yugoslav flags, and first competed under the Croatian flag in 1992, at the Winter Olympic Games held in Albertville and the Summer Games held in Barcelona, following the admittance of the Croatian Olympic Committee to the International Olympic Committee. Since then, Croatian athletes have also participated in other competitions that are part of the Olympic movement and are held under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee (the Youth Olympic Games, the European Games, the Mediterranean Games, the European Youth Olympic Festival).

Although the first appearances by Croatian competitors signified national identification, their successes turned Croatia into a strong sporting country, and today they are a recognisable part of the country's identity and often serve as its best ambassadors.

Hrvatski Sokol poster; Menci Clement Crnčić, 1906
Franjo Bučar (1866–1946), sports populariser, literary historian and publicist; initiated and organised several branches of sport (skiing, fencing, tennis, football, etc.).
Milan Neralić (1875–1918), fencer; the first Croat to participate in the Olympic Games and the first to win a medal (1900).
Đurđa Bjedov (1947), swimmer; won gold and silver medals at the 1968 Olympic Games.
Mate Parlov (1948–2008), boxer; won an Olympic gold medal in 1972. As a professional boxer, he became the light-heavyweight world champion in 1978.
Matija Ljubek (1953–2000), canoeist; won four Olympic medals (gold and bronze in 1976 and gold and silver in 1984) and 10 World Championships medals (bronze in 1975, gold and bronze in 1978, silver in 1981, two golds in 1982, and gold and bronze in 1983 and in 1985).

Along with many medals at international and European Championships, Croatia has won 52 Olympic medals: 18 gold (three in athletics, two each in handball, shooting and rowing, one each in weightlifting, sailing, water polo, taekwondo and tennis, and four in Alpine skiing), 19 silver medals (three in rowing, two each in water polo, athletics and gymnastics, one each in sailing, basketball, tennis and swimming, and six in Alpine skiing) and 15 bronze medals (four in taekwondo, three in tennis, two in rowing and one each in athletics, boxing, weightlifting, handball, shooting and the biathlon).

Croatians are a sporting nation; sport is part of the compulsory curriculum in schools at all levels of education. Many children and young people take part in extracurricular sporting activities, which are also seen as a way of life in recreational terms. So as to maintain and further develop these successes, the Croatian Parliament enacted the first National Sport Programme 2019–2026 on the basis of the Sport Law and as an activity of special interest for Croatia.

There are about 12,500 sports associations in Croatia. The most popular sport is football, with almost 1,500 registered clubs and 110,000 participants. As in most other European countries, sport in Croatia is financed from the State Budget, state and public contributions, sponsorship and membership fees.

The largest sports association is the Croatian Olympic Committee (Hrvatski Olimpijski Odbor – HOO), which was founded in 1991. A total of 87 national sports associations operate within the HOO, covering 44 Olympic sports and 39 non-Olympic sports.

Stipe Božić (1951), climber and publicist; climbed the three highest peaks in the world (Mt Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga) and the highest peaks on all continents. He is a member of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, and is the author of more than 80 documentaries and several books in which he talks about his climbing expeditions, and speleological and submarine exploration.
Krešimir Ćosić (1948–95), basketball player and coach; played in Croatia, the USA, Slovenia and Italy. Won two World Championships (1970 and 1978), one gold (1980) and two silver medals (1968 and 1976) at the Olympic Games. The first Croat to be inducted into the American Basketball Hall of Fame (1996).
Dražen Petrović (1964–93), basketball player; played in Croatia, for the Spanish club Real, and in the NBA League. He was the first captain of the Croatian national team, with which he won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympic Games in the final against the American Dream Team. He was installed in the American Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Janica Kostelić (1982), skier; won the overall World Cup title in 2001, 2003 and 2006, the slalom title in 2001, 2003 and 2006, and the combined title in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006; won five golds at the World Championships in 2003 and 2005, and four gold and two silver medals at the Olympic Games in 2002 and 2006.
Ivica Kostelić (1979), skier; won the overall World Cup title in 2011, the slalom title in 2002 and 2011, and the super-combined title in 2011, 2012 and 2013; won four silver Olympic medals (2006, 2010 and 2014).
Sandra Perković (1990), athlete; two-time Olympic (2012, 2016), two-time world (2013, 2017; also silver medallist in 2015 and 2022 and bronze medalist in 2019) and six-time European champion (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2022) in the discus and the most successful athlete of the Diamond League (unbeaten champion from 2012 to 2017).

National tennis team. The national tennis team have been competing since 1992; they won three Olympic bronze medals – in 1992 (Goran Ivanišević in men's singles, and Goran Ivanišević and Goran Prpić in men's doubles) and in 2004 (Ivan Ljubičić and Mario Ančić in men's doubles) – and the Davis Cup title in 2005 and 2018 (silver medal in 2021). Among the players currently playing for the national team, the most prominent is Marin Čilić (1988), the winner of the US Open in 2014 and two Olympic silver medals in 2020 [2021] (in doubles with Ivan Dodig). In addition to his achievements as a member of the national team, Goran Ivanišević (1971) also won Wimbledon in 2001; in 2021 he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

National handball team. The men's national handball team have been competing since 1991; they won gold at the World Championship in 2003 (silver in 1995, 2005 and 2009, and bronze in 2013) and at the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2004 (bronze in 2012). Among the most prominent players are Ivano Balić (1979), the world handball player of the year in 2003 and 2006, and, more recently, Domagoj Duvnjak (1988), the world handball player of the year in 2013.

National water polo team. The national water polo team have been competing since 1991; they took the gold at the World Championships in 2007 and 2017 (the bronze in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2019, the silver in 2015), the European Championship in 2010 and 2022 (the silver in 1999 and 2003, the bronze in 2018) and the 2012 Olympic Games (the silver in 1996 and 2016). Most of the players come from the Zagreb club Mladost and the Dubrovnik club Jug, both many times winners of the European Champions League.

National water polo team
National handball team
Davis Cup, 2005.
Croatian Olympic team at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Blanka Vlašić (1983), athlete; high jump world champion in 2007 and 2009 (silver medallist in 2011 and 2015) and the European champion in 2010; won the silver at the 2008 Olympic Games and the bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games; European athlete of the year in 2010. She was inducted into the Memorial Van Damme Hall of Fame in 2002.
Davor Šuker (1968), footballer; top goalscorer at the World Cup in 1998, when the Croatian national team won third place.

Shooting. Since Croatian independence in 1991, the greatest achievements in various shooting disciplines have been accomplished by many-times European Champions and Olympic medal winners Snježana Pejčić (1982), who won the bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games, Giovanni Cernogoraz (1982), who won the gold in 2012, and Josip Glasnović (1983), who won the gold in 2016.

Sailing. Since 1991, Croatian sailors have made outstanding achievements in various classes not only in international regattas, but also at the Olympic Games and World and European Championships. Šime Fantela (1986) and Igor Marenić (1986) won the 2016 Olympic Games, the World Championships in 2009 and 2016 (Šime with his brother Mihovil also in 2018, bronze in 2022) and the European Championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Tonći Stipanović (1986) took the gold at the European Championships in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 (bronze in 2020 and 2021), and Ivan Kljaković Gašpić (1984) in 2009, 2010 and 2015. Tina Mihelić (1988) won the World Championship in 2013 and the European Championships in 2009 and 2010. Filip Jurišić (1992) took the silver at the European Championships in 2021 and bronze in 2022.

Rowing. Since Croatian independence in 1991, 7 Olympic and 17 World and 17 European championships (since 2007) medals have been won in various rowing disciplines. Among the many rowers (Igor Boraska, Tihomir Franković, brothers Siniša and Nikša Skelin, Damir Martin, David Šain and others), the most prominent are brothers Valent (1988) and Martin (1989) Sinković, who won gold at the 2016 and the 2020 [2021] Olympic Games (silver in 2012), the World championships in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019 (bronze in 2011, silver in 2017 and 2023) and the European championships in 2012, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2023 (silver in 2020).

Goran Ivanišević
Marin Čilić
Josip Glasnović and Giovanni Cernogoraz
Valent and Martin Sinković
Tina Mihelić
Tonći Stipanović
Šime and Mihovil Fantela
Luka Modrić
Tin Srbić

National football team. Since Croatian independence in 1991, the national football team have won the bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup and the silver at the 2018 World Cup. In the latter case, the team was led by their captain, Luka Modrić, the best player of the World Cup and winner of the UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award, the Best FIFA Men's Player award and the Golden Ball (presented by France Football). Former national team player Davor Šuker (1968), the top goalscorer of the 1998 World Cup, is the current president of the Croatian Football Federation and member of the UEFA Executive Committee.

Gymnastics. Since Croatian independence in 1991, the most notable achievements in gymnastics have been made by: on the pommel horse, Filip Ude (1986) ‒ the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, the 2008 and 2020 European Championships and the 2014 World Championships ‒ and Robert Seligman (1986) ‒ bronze and silver at the European championships in 2008 and 2018 respectively; on the horizontal bar, Marijo Možnik (1987) ‒ silver and gold at the European championships in 2012 and 2015 respectively, bronze at the 2014 World Championships ‒ and Tin Srbić (1996) ‒ gold at the 2017 World Championship (holder of the World Class Gymnast title), silver at the 2019 and 2023, gold at the 2023 European Championships as well as silver at the 2020 [2021] Olympic Games; and on the floor, Aurel Benović (2000), silver medal at the European Championships in 2020.

The national football team have won the silver at the 2018 World Cup and the bronze in 2022.
More than half a million people turned out to welcome the footballers in Zagreb and then throughout Croatia.