Amid protests in Serbia over the government's response to the coronavirus crisis, the president said he would take a basketball coaching course. Critics scoffed that focusing on a team sport might do the politician good.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has enrolled in a sports college to pursue his childhood dreams of becoming a basketball coach.
The 50-year-old president posted the announcement on social media platform Instagram.
"For the second time in my life I became a student... in a wish to become a basketball coach for kids," Vucic wrote on Saturday. "You would not believe how happy I am that after many years I am starting to realize my boyhood dreams."
The Instagram post was accompanied by a picture of Vucic holding a stamped student ID booklet from a Belgrade sports and health college with a miniature basketball sitting on his presidential desk.
Vucic, a law graduate, told a local newspaper in June that his unfilled wish was to become a basketball coach.
"There is nothing nicer than spending Saturdays and Sundays with young players, children whom you can teach something," he told Serbian daily Kurir, adding that his ultimate dream is to train children from a "small club."
Coaching through the crisis
Vucic became prime minister in 2014 and then assumed the presidency in 2017. Like many in his country, Vucic had always been a big fan of basketball and soccer. The former ultranationalist politician has repeatedly boasted about taking part in fan fights during his youth, while he was an active supporter of the Red Star football club. The president's renewed basketball ambitions might be aided by his 1.99 meters (6 feet and 3.5 inches) stature.
Vucic's announcement comes almost two weeks after violent protests rocked the city of Belgrade.
Citizens took to the streets on July 7 in frustration over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Vucic had announced the capital would be placed under a three-day lockdown after a second wave of confirmed coronavirus infections.
The demonstrations continued despite Vucic suspending his plan to enforce the lockdown. Instead, his government banned gatherings of more than 10 people and made face masks mandatory indoors.
Serbia, a country of nearly 7 million people, has suffered 461 deaths from COVID-19 and nearly 20,500 infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
'I'm not sure he can be a coach for a team sport'
The news of Vucic starting his studies prompted ridicule on social media, with some users posting his picture as the future leader of anti-government student protests. Others posted a photo of Vucic taken while the president was playing basketball with a young boy, showing Vucic roughly blocking the child's attempt to score.
Celebrated basketball coach Dusko Vujosevic commented that it would be best if the president started his coaching career as soon as possible.
"Taking into account his current behavior as the president of the country, I'm not sure he can be a coach for a team sport, but considering that he wants to work with the youth and that he is financially secure, it is possible he would do it more relaxed and healthier," said Vujosevic, who has coached Red Star's Belgrade rivals, Partizan.
Talking to Direktno.rs news site, Vujosevic also expressed hope that Vucic would show more talent for coaching than for his current job.
The private school that Vucic is set to attend refused comment when asked about the president's entry exam by the independent daily Danas. The paper also said the school requires all prospective students to prove that they have actively played whatever sport they are planning to coach for at least three years, except for those applying for a "recreational" degree. According to Danas, these terms have been listed on the institution's website as recently as Saturday, but the three-year condition has been removed by Sunday.