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Memoirs of Iztok Durjava, first director of the Sports Museum

Tadej Curk and Aleš Šafarič

Education and museum work experience:

Art historian and historian by profession. In 1985, he received his PhD in Art History from the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana.

In 1974-2000, he worked at the former Museum of the People’s Revolution in Slovenia as curator of the fine arts collection, later as assistant director, and in 1995-2000 as director of the then National Museum of Contemporary History. Coordinator of the permanent exhibition Slovenians in the 20th Century, which was successfully completed in 1996.

Previous contact with sports heritage and history:

Until 2000, I had never worked with sports history and heritage, but I had always followed sports events in Slovenia and around the world. I was also an active athlete. At the age of 15, I was already a member of the U16 Olimpija football team. I also attended several alpine skiing courses and practised underwater fishing for over 40 years. Later, I played mini-football as a member of a team that won many tournaments in Ljubljana, Belgrade and elsewhere.

First encounter with the idea of the Sports Museum:

When I was director of the National Museum of Contemporary History, Dr Tomaž Pavlin came to see me; he told me that he was planning a sports museum and asked if I could help him in any way.

The Way to the Sports Museum:

The State Secretary for Sport in the so-called Bajuk government, Aleš Vest, offered me the post of Acting Director of the newly established public institute, Sports Museum.

First problems as Acting Director:

Revocation of the original Decision establishing the Sports Museum. In my new role, I did not know whether the Acting Director would have to implement the new decision or remedy the old one. In addition, the stated location of the Museum in the Sokol building at Tabor 13 did not, in my opinion, have a realistic basis, which I later verified.

Continuing as Acting Director:

At the time when I was in this role, the Museum did not even have temporary premises, so I made preparations and plans for the Museum’s operation at the Institute of Sport in Tivoli, where I was given a room and a computer. In 2001, State Secretary Aleš Vest arranged for us to get premises at Kopitarjeva Street 4, which belonged to the State and had previously been used for lectures for students of the Faculty of Law. The premises were hardly furnished at all; there was a blackboard and 14 chairs but no other equipment apart from that.

We started the Museum practically from scratch. Friends helped me to furnish the rooms with old furniture from the University Hospital, and I brought some equipment from home. The Institute of Sport gave us two old computers. I bought the plaque with the Museum’s name for the façade of the Dnevnik building with my own money.

The Museum was not even guaranteed the so-called start-up funds, so I paid out of my own pocket for the costs of registration – entering the Museum in the court register, obtaining a tax and registration number, a sub-account at the Public Payments Administration and a post office box. My pro bono lawyer friends helped me with all these initial tasks. Because the authorities only appointed 4 members to the Board (instead of 6), I had quorum problems throughout the whole period of operation when adopting important documents such as the Annual Work Plan and the Annual Activity Report.

Building the staff team at the Sports Museum:

The museum cannot operate only with an acting director, but the need to recruit at least one more employee fell on deaf ears. Therefore, I hired Slavica Kukovec, who had previously worked at the National Museum of Contemporary History, without the permission of the Ministry. At first, I covered her personal income with my own funds. This was later clarified, and I was reimbursed.

The museum and heritage material:

The Faculty of Sport, i.e., its library, had already built up quite an extensive collection, but we could not simply just transfer it to the premises in Kopitarjeva Street, as there was no suitable storage space. So, I started to collect the material intensively. It helped that I had been involved in sports circles before.

I also knew some sports journalists, and journalists from the sports section of the Dnevnik newspaper, who worked in the same building, were also helpful. They enabled me to make direct contact with some of the athletes.

The first object acquired for the Sports Museum:

The first object acquired was really up to the minute: the jersey of the cyclist Andrej Hauptman, who won the first cycling bronze medal in road cycling at the 2001 World Championships in Barcelona. I visited the cyclist in his hometown of Kranj, and that was the beginning of my extensive fieldwork.

In addition to the personal contact, to acquire items, it was important that…:

I attended practically all the welcoming ceremonies for athletes returning from important competitions, sports events, and athletes’ press conferences. I was present at all the meetings of the Slovenian Olympic Committee and the meetings of the individual sports federations. I also visited sports competitions such as the Šalamun Gymnastics Cup in Maribor, the European Gymnastics Championship (2004), the European Water Polo Championship (2003), etc.

Other core activities of the Sports Museum:

Understandably, the Museum could not fully develop its core activities due to staff shortages. As a result, the inventory of the material remained at the level of documents of receipt. However, a lot of work was done by Slavica Kukovec, who diligently documented the photographic material, which was constantly growing thanks to large donations (e.g., from Aleš and Svetozar Guček).

Exhibition work:

The first step in this area was the exhibition From fencer Rudolf Cvetek to cyclist Andrej Hauptman, which we organised in the Jurček Hall at the Ljubljana Exhibition Centre in 2001 as part of the Sports and Recreation Fair. In the following years, the Museum continued to participate in such annual events with its own stand. In 2002, the Sports Museum, with the help of external collaborators, organised a photography exhibition on the history of sport in the then Sports Office.

In 2003, Tomaž Pavlin and I prepared a large exhibition at the Ljubljana Exhibition Centre, entitled The Museum Collection Project in the Making, as part of the EXPO fair to mark the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Južni Sokol gymnastics association and the beginnings of sport in Slovenia. The exhibition hinted at what kind of exhibition space the Museum would need in the future. It was seen by many visitors to the fair and was also covered by the media.

In the following years, the Museum organised several other exhibitions: on the history of football (Triglav Sports Centre, 2002), gymnastics (Tivoli Hall, 2004) and water polo (Kranj Swimming Pool, 2003). In 2015, together with a new temporary employee, Aleš Šafarič, we prepared an exhibition on the history of ski jumping at the Planica Nordic Centre.

Permanent exhibition of the Sports Museum:

I have always been aware that the Museum, as a public institution, should also exhibit the material that comes into the Museum. In 2003, my colleague Slavica Kukovec and I put together the first modest exhibition in the largest room of the Museum with the material that had been acquired up to that point. The Museum had already been included in the so-called museum network and mentioned in museum publications, so the first visitors slowly began to arrive. At first, they were individuals, then mainly school groups from Ljubljana and other parts of Slovenia. The number of foreign tourists was also quite high. I was available to all visitors every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and prepared a short guided tour for them. In 2007, when we received some investment funds from the Ministry, we renovated the exhibition space and bought some equipment that allowed us to improve our presentation further. As a result, the number of visitors increased, and the Museum found its place among the general public.

Accompanying activities at the Sports Museum:

Meetings between athletes and interested visitors were organised at the Museum. I also did research when time allowed. I prepared discussions on prominent members of Sokol, Viktor Murnik (panel discussion at the National Museum of Contemporary History, 24 March 2006) and Engelbert Gangl (panel discussion at the National Museum of Contemporary History, 5-6 December 2013). I wrote about the sculptural work of Lojze Dolinar, which is related to sport, and contributed to an exhibition and catalogue on Stanko Bloudek (The Flying Man Stanko Bloudek (1890-1959), Technical Museum of Slovenia, 2009).

In 2004, in order to increase the visibility of the Museum, we founded the Association of Friends of the Sports Museum, which already had about 150 members upon foundation.

Various individuals also came to the Museum to obtain information about the history of sport. They already had an extensive library at their disposal, which grew further thanks to various donations. Visitors also had access to an important source of information, the former sports newspaper Polet and a rich collection of photographs.

The unsolved problem of the Sports Museum:

We always sought to find the most suitable premises for the Museum. I have to admit that at one point, we reached an agreement with the staff of the Sport Directorate in this respect. At that time, the possible locations were the Stožice site (talks with Mayor Zoran Jankovič), the Plečnik Stadium (talks with businessman Joc Pečečnik), the restored Pristava at Kodeljevo (talks with the management of the Faculty of Sport), and there was also the strange idea of relocating the Museum to Turjak Castle. Of course, none of these possibilities came to fruition, which is a great pity.

Positive aspects and rewards of working at the Sports Museum:

I did receive public and symbolic satisfaction for my work when I was awarded the Bloudek Plaque for Lifetime Achievement in Sport in 2013  at the suggestion of top athletes Tina Maze, Jure Franko, Rajmond Debevec, Iztok Čop and Mitja Petkovšek. I am also pleased that the Court of Audit of the Republic of Slovenia, in its audit of the Museum of Sport, did not find any anomalies in the Museum’s operations but instead reprimanded the State for its inadequate attitude and care for the heritage of Slovenian sports.

A well-deserved retirement:

In 2016, I retired as the head of the Sports Museum Department of the Planica Institute of Sport.

Final thought:

My goal has always been for Slovenians and Slovenian athletes to have their own historical temple like athletes in most European countries and elsewhere have. I would also like to express my agreement with the words of Professor Drago Ulaga from 1997: “For a small nation like the Slovenians, the relationship with the treasury of our culture is of great importance. Nothing should be lost, nothing forgotten, not even in the field of physical culture. With a century of development behind us, with living witnesses passing away, it is five minutes to twelve for the Museum of Physical Culture.”


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