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Blog guest: Damir Stajner

Damir Stajner, the executive director of the National Olympic Committee of Serbia, as a Swimming Dad #Blog guest explains how “hard is to be nice” outside the swimming pool and competitions, how much the top athletes respect the “housekeeping rules”, and who the most well behaved is. Throughout his very successful career, the chief of mission of the Serbian delegation at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, Damir also lead the Serbian team at the winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer (2016), Sochi (2014) and Pyeong Chang (South Korea, 2018). He also was worked as a sports director at the Serbian Olympic Committee, but volunteered as the executive director of the 27th Summer Universiade in Kazan in 2013.

Do the athletes follow the rules outside and around the swimming pool in the same way they do in it? How hard is it to “behave nicely” outside the pool?

This is quite a good and important question. Having worked with some of the top athletes for a very long period of time, I paid attention to their behaviour in and outside the pool (or other “battle grounds”), I realised you could recognise the top athlete even before you see him/her compete or jump

into the pool. Their behaviour outside the pool speaks a lot about what they are like as athletes, and after all the most important thing, what they are like as people. Good athletes have good sports behaviour and discipline, so I usually never have problems working with them. They respect all our agreements, they are always punctual, respect their colleagues, coaches and opponents. This is how they behave in the pool too.

“Behaving nicely” is not a difficult thing neither in nor outside the pool. That depends on your family but also sports upbringing, moreover, it has to be your personal decision. And yes… in order to become a true champion, this is as important as your ability to achieve the best result in the competition.

Is there a sort of “good manners guide” that each Olympic athlete should follow? And if there is, to what extent do they follow it?

When we start preparing our Missions (delegations) for the top world competitions, such as Olympic Games, one of the things we define are also the housekeeping rules that each member of the delegation should follow.

They are not strict or rigid, but they serve more as guidelines and framework that we use to remind our athletes to respect other members of the team even during the moments of the highest pressure throughout the competitions. For example, we advise them not to do anything they wouldn’t like other members of the team to do to them while they are preparing or resting at the Olympic village before their competition.

I had the privilege to lead our sports delegation to more than 10 top world competitions, including the Olympic Games in Rio, and I have never had any major problems with any of our athletes in terms of following the housekeeping rules. And especially in Rio, where I had our best athletes with me, this was the easiest thing to manage. This proves my point that you can’t be a great athlete if you don’t behave as a champion even outside the


It is very important that athletes, both those who are at the beginning of their careers and those who are already famous, remember that they are being observed by many pairs of eyes. And in their eyes, athletes do not represent only themselves, but also their parents, schools, clubs, and after all the countries they are coming from. That’s why it is very important to behave as a champion during and outside the competition!

In your opinion, how much do people follow the housekeeping rules, and what would be the country who does it best and why do you think so?

I believe I can’t give a general answer to this question. Following the rules actually depends on an individual. However, we can talk about certain behavioural patterns each nation has or doesn’t have. Let’s start from

ourselves (Serbia). I think that we, as a society, have been stagnating in the last thirty years. In some social segments we are even going backwards. There are many reasons for such trend, but this trend is a direct consequence of the completely wrong values we have been exposed to. I mention this because in terms of the housekeeping rules I would like to give a broader perspective. Here I refer to standing up for the elderly on a bus, saying hello to each

other in the street, etc. I also refer to our work ethic, to be kind and pleasant to our clients and colleagues, and in our sports world to leave the locker room clean and tidy. I think we really lack this, especially because our society sees it as a trivial thing and doesn’t pay attention to it.

Let’s not fool ourselves. This is very important! It is important because it’s not too difficult to do it, and it also makes us and other people happy, while improving the quality of our lifestyle and making us better people! You cannot become a champion on the court if we don’t learn how to be champions outside it!


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