Some people say it sucks, some people say it’s one of the most important elements of the business world, but they all agree on one, that MEDIA has the POWER. In today’s world if it’s not mentioned in the  newspapers, TV or on the  internet, it’s like it never happened. It just never exsisted.


When I started my professional swimming career, I wasn’t aware of the role and importance of media in sport. After 15 years of professional swimming, I’m pretty much convienced I couldn’t have achieved either 10% of my popularity without the media. I couldn’t have managed without being active on social networks or without trying to brake different stereotypes about athletes.

Atena, 17.09.2004 - Hrvatski paraolimpijac Mihovil Špranja nosi hrvatsku zastavu tijekom svecane ceremonije otvaranja XII Paraolimpijskih igara u Ateni. foto FaH/ Damir SENCAR

It’s just not enough, especially if you want to send a message out in the world which will eventually leave a huge impact on your career and potential sponsors. I can say for myself that I’m naturally a communicative person, so it made things easier than with some other athletes who were more introverted.

It was much easier, because it wasn’t a problem for me to start a conversation and share my experiences with other athletes, journalists or any other person connected in any way with my sport.

That gave me a big advantage on many levels. What was my biggest achievement regarding media representatives? I succeeded to be always one step ahead. I gave them information before they have asked me.  I gave them meat before they said they were hungry.

They got used to me as an athlete and as someone who is much more than just some guy who swims fast and breaks world records around the globe.


I’m not a magician , but I could say that I had a good feeling of what do journalists want. They don’t want sports cover magazines which they can’t sell or which don’t have  great publicity, like football or basketball.

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Many sport lovers in Croatia recognize me as the Croatian’s most trophied athlete. On my way to success I had to overcome many obstacles. One of the hardest was  my disability. When I started my pro swimming, 18 years ago in my hometown Dubrovnik, this was an unknown and new subject in the environment where I was living, in fact in the entire country. Therefore, I made a small plan what I need to do to change that. I started to socialize on many occasions and during meetings with local sports journalists.

I discovered that the direct way is the best way. Unnecessary emails, phone calls and letters can sometimes be too much. I realised that the best way is to aproach to some journalist that you know or that works for your local TV or radio station and intorduce yourself. I did that and I was only 14 years old back then. I don’t think that  much has changed today, just a few new communication channels.


Croatian paralympians are identified and established athletes, far more than 15 years ago when I started. Today, we have no boundaries in receiving prestige awards for our sports achievements from the highest institutions in Croatia, such as the Government or even the President. It was a long and demanding way , but thanks to media that has changed. Media had a huge influence on paralympians in Croatia.

I was always saying to myself – THINK GLOBALLY,ACT LOCALLY, My favorite quote lead me into the world of media. I made my first steps in the public relations sector. That is my teritory, so lets talk more about it.

Atena, 27.09.2004 - Hrvatski paraolimpijac Mihovil Spanja zagrizao je svojih tri broncane medalje tijekom sinocnjeg zavrsnog slavlja u Hrvatskoj kuci u Ateni. foto FaH/ Damir SENCAR

Currently I’m finishing my PR degree at the University in Dubrovnik. The knowledge I gained was very useful for my sports career and my relation with the media.

What made me different from other athletes?  Only one thing, I gave the information to the the media  before they asked. I respected them and got the proper feedback, simple as that.

They published my competition results, photographs of my medals and my colleagues from the swimming pool. After I won a medal, I was writing my own press releases and news. My media list was becoming bigger and bigger after every competition. I gave them meat, before they became hungry. This was very helpful, specialy in times when they had some “open space” for new and interesting stories without mentioning my competitions.

on day 1 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Aquatics Centre on August 30, 2012 in London, England.

Beside the sports news, I wrote travel stories from many places I have visited as an athlete. Interesting stories from Australia, South America to Asia and Africa. I wrote many travel diaries from my journeys where I shared all the gained experience while exploring and meeting other cultures and customs. That was my asset, an added value for the media and for the people reading the articles.


What made me a little bit more famous?! At the Paralympic Games in Athens 2004, I won my first paralympic medals with my new haircut, with red and white squares like on the Croatian national flag. That haircut gave me great publicity. Everyone could recognize me, a guy with a crazy haircut winning three medals at the Paralympic Games in Athens. I made my personal brand from my Paralympic success.


A good picture is worth a thousand words. I must admit when my photo from Athens was published in the Croatian media people around the whole country started to ask themselves  – Who is that guy with a weird haircut? It is not just about winning  medals, it is about feeding fans and  public with new stories and giving them new reasons to comment and to have a fun. Sport is not only about who’s faster and stronger, sport is also show business and it’s one of the biggest in the world. Every day advertising and commercials prove it.

You must build a strong relationship with the journalists! They must be aware of you and your achievements. To do so, you must “feed them” constantly and always be active online. They can be your worst enemy or your best friend. They can help you build your brand. The choice is all yours. From my experience, it is way better to make them your partner. And if you think that they will do your work, you’re wrong. What I’ve learned by being a pro athlete, is that you’re on your own and nobody will help you build and create your own publicity unless you don’t start doing it yourself! After many years I can say I did it!


At the London Paralympic Games in 2012 I was selected by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) among 50 other athletes to become a member of „SAMSUNG ONES TO WATCH“ project.

I had received a new Samsung Note mobile phone in order to write and post blogs and videos on daily basis during the entire competition. I published some interesting blogs from the Paralympic Village, from my apartment, while waiting for my races. The blog was very popular on the official London Paralympic Games website. I also created my facebook fan page which reached over five thousand fans in just a few days.


After I have finished my professional career in London 2012, I received an offer to come to IPC headquarters in Bonn, Germany, to do my internship in their Media Office. It gave me an opportunity to work with paralympic media experts and gain new experiences, but first of all to understand better the world of media and its impact on today’s sports industry.

Atena, 22.09.2004 - Hrvatski paraolimpijac Mihovil Španja slavi osvajanje broncane Paraolimpijske medalje na pobjednickom postolju Paraolimpijskih igara u Ateni. Mihovil Španja osvojio je broncu u utrci na 100 metara ledjnim stilom u klasi S8 s rezultatom 1:13.49 minuta. foto FaH/ Damir SENCAR

Nearly 3 million tickets were sold at the London Paralympic Games. They had one of the greatest media coverages ever with BBC and Channel 4 from Great Britain as the leading media representatives. Paralympians were recognized as heroes from the entire British nation. That is the power of media.  I’m proud that in the early phase of my swimming career, I perceived the significance  of media in sport, which helped me to be acknowledged today as one of the most trophied athlete in the history of Croatian sport.

Without the help of media and social networks, I would have been just like many other athletes. Today I stand out from the mass of millions  paralympians.

At the end don’t forget that  – IF IT’S NOT PUBLISHED, IT’S LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED!!!


FOTO: Damir Senčar – HINA  

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