At first sight, this question sounds rhetorical to the majority of people living in the western world. We should not take for granted the answer, however.

Some weeks ago I wrote a post on victory. Right after writing it, coincidentally I had the chance to discuss on another blog a different topic related to victory as well. This discussion made me think back to what I had written. I realized that there was an implicit assumption underlying my post. Even though I didn’t say it explicitly, I assumed that anybody playing any game wants to win. Is it really true?

In the blog I just mentioned, some friends and I discussed about the expression nadmudrivanje suparnika. This expression is used by Croats and Serbs to indicate an interesting concept I was taught by my friend, Sergio Tavčar. He defined it in his book. The book is written in Italian and talks about basketball stories which are intimately related to the Balkan culture. Tavčar says that it is virtually impossible to translate this concept in a different language properly [1] because a language embeds in it the entire culture and history of a people. That said, I’m going to challenge myself seriously as I’ll try to describe nadmudrivanje suparnika in English! Due to the fact that there is a double translation, it is very likely that I won’t be able to express the concept properly. Anyway, I’ll do my best!

The origin of this expression is the Serbo-Croat verb nadmudrivati. Literally, it means to compete to be the wisest. With regard to sports and games in general, this verb is used to make the expression nadmudrivanje suparnika which denotes the ultimate goal of competing: being more uncanny [2] than your opponent. This is very interesting. Surprisingly, I found out that, according to the Serbo-Coratian culture, winning is not the most important thing when you compete! The question arises: how to show you are more uncanny than your opponent? In essence, you are supposed to trick him or even to make fun of him in order to prove your superiority. I’ll try to explain this idea with an example. Think about a soccer game (football for the British English speaking readers). To employ this concept, an attacker should not be interested in scoring as many goals as possible. Rather, he should aim to dribble repeatedly past all the defenders in the most humiliating way possible. Got it?

I think it would be possible to find other similar examples. For instance, I read somewhere that there are several African cultures which couldn’t care less about winning competitions. According to these cultures, people are supposed to play just to enjoy the game. They think the final result has no importance and this is why they don’t even keep score. The point is that we often make a common error with regard to cultural diversity. Even if unconsciously, we take for granted that all cultures view the things like we do. This is not true and this leads to misunderstandings or even conflicts in some cases. Once again, sports prove to be much more than a mere activity for the body. They are also a direct expression of a people’s history and culture. As such, sports are very helpful to foster mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue.

Ping pong diplomacy (source:



The readers who can read Italian can see how Tavčar defined nadmudrivanje suparnika here.

The choice of this adjective is crucial. I had several options to choose from (astute, shrewd, clever, and others). I hope the word I chose is the best suited. Anyway, please feel free to contact me if you think I should use a different one.

Featured image source: