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Opportunities for women in sport continue to improve, but breaking down barriers of discrimination on or off the court was never going to be easy, according to London Lions women’s team general manager Vanja Cernivec.
Last summer, Slovenian-born Cernivec was appointed the first female general manager at a Women’s British Basketball League side.
Having previously been an international scout for the Chicago Bulls, the first woman in the NBA’s history to fulfil the position, Cernivec is no stranger to overcoming boundaries.
Emily Clarke was announced as the new general manager of the Women’s British Basketball League at the end of June.
Nevertheless, recent research commissioned by the Lions showed 25 per cent of women felt progressing in a sport, either at player or management level, was not viable as there were no role models to relate to.
Part of the study, which was conducted across a nationally representative cohort of 2,090 respondents, also revealed 20 per cent of females said they had experienced some kind of discrimination or exclusion which deterred them from participating in a sport.
Cernivec, though, feels appointments such as her own and that of Clarke – who previously held management roles at Basketball England – demonstrate there is a genuine drive to embrace change alongside having difficult conversations on delivering equality throughout the sport.
“Generally the reception (to my role) has been very positive,” Cernivec told the PA news agency.
“(London Lions owners) 777 have done an incredible step assigning that position. It didn’t matter who stepped in – in this case, it was me.
“By opening this position, they have kind of set a milestone and said how important this role is, setting the same standard for the women’s game as for the men’s.
“The hire of Emily as the GM (general manager) for the Women’s British Basketball League is a great step forward, but changes are never easy for people to accept.”
Cernivec added: “Things are changing for the better, the fact we are talking about this right now says that.
“If you look at women’s sport globally, it is on the rise. It is not the next upcoming thing, it is the thing right now, so anyone who tries to ignore it is on the wrong path.
“But the fact that women still feel discriminated against in the grassroots and participation level is something which needs to be changed immediately – not only from a professional (sports) aspect, but also for the mental and physical health of our youth.”
Cernivec’s role also saw her become global director of London Lions Academy.
During June, the Lions took part in the inaugural junior NBA European finals in Valencia, sending both an under-15s boys and girls team to the elite youth tournament.
Cernivec hopes such projects can help further develop the talent pool of home-grown players and potential future professionals.
“If you look at the pathway for young British male or female players, it kind of ends in the last year of high school and if they want to continue playing (at an elite level), then they have to go abroad,” she said.
“That is something the Lions are trying to change and help create a professional pathway – with coaches around, nutritionists, mental health support, strength and conditioning, all that comes along with building the athletes to what they aspire to be.
“With the junior NBA platform, it was a great event which has exposed us to where the British talent is right now and where our coaching pool stands, so it was a great experience for everyone.
“We have a great pool of talent in Britain. It is just a matter of how fast we can build up the coaching staff and the facilities, everything which is needed to give them the right development they deserve.”