At the Women’s EHF Euro 2022 in November, handball players will be in the forefront, and until then we will pay some attention to the ambassadors of the championship. 17 exceptional women who are successful in their respective fields, and all together they are changing the world for the better. The first of them works in handball and has been closely associated with it since she was young.
Deja Ivanović is the most involved in sports among all the ambassadors of the Women’s EHF Euro 2022. The player of Krim Mercator played an important role in winning the Champions League title in 2001 and 2003. After an early end to her sports career, her path took her into business, and at the age of 29 she took over the position of assistant director of the Ljubljana club.
The graduate economist also worked for some time at the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, and today she is again focused on the project for which her heart beats the most vigorously. In HC Krim Mercator she has been passing on her experience to younger generations for some time, and now she is playing the role of sports director in the most successful Slovenian women’s sports team of all time.
Who is Deja Ivanović
Difficult question. It’s always hard to talk about yourself. What can I say? Maybe first a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker. These are the things that describe me in a way and give me a certain role, a certain importance in all my life stages. On the other hand, I am a person who has been dedicated to sports for almost my whole life. For me, the most beautiful sport – handball. I live it in different roles. From my tenth, eleventh year until today. I was closer to him at different times. Sometimes a little more from afar, but all the time in the heart to the fullest.
Handball accompanies you all your life. You used to be active on the court, now by his side. What has helped you from the past to be so successful in your field today?
In my opinion, sport is a school for life. Even if you don’t play at the highest level, it gives you those values and qualities that can enrich you for a lifetime. All the things that sport has taught me and all the people I have met over the years in different roles, from coaches and club officials to teammates of different nationalities and cultures, have enriched me and given me some kind of life journey.
You work in HC Krim Mercator, which ranked among the top eight teams in Europe. This is a great success and an additional promotion for the Women’s EHF Euro 2022, which awaits us in November.
I am extremely happy for these two big projects – the European Championship in Slovenia and the Champions League, which turned out in our favor at the club level, just as we wanted. Given that a large part of the Slovenian national team is also part of our club, this is great for both communities, both for the Slovenian national team and for our club.
You are used to the greatest successes from your professional sports career, especially from the club environment. How was it then? Did the handball fever spread quickly?
In the times when we became European club champions for the first, second time and when we played the finals, I felt the enthusiasm, the popularity of our sport. But I became even more aware over the years of how popular we were, how popular women’s handball was. It happened to me that over time I visited places in Slovenia that I thought did not follow women’s handball, but they knew absolutely everything. At that time, the popularity rose and I still say today that with the results, the popularity of an industry is rising. I believe that with both of these projects we are on the way to great or greatest popularization of our industry.
You are also a former Slovenian national team player. Do you remember any of the events, goals in particular?
It would be hard to pick just one goal or one appearance. In any case, this is the 2003 World Championship in Croatia, when the Slovenian women’s national team won the most prominent ranking, eighth place. We were a little short of the final fights.
I will remember other periods as well. From my first appearances, when I was selected among the Slovenian handball elite as a very young woman, to my last appearance for the national team in Kranjska Gora. As I walk past the hall today, I remember the day I last wore a Slovenian jersey. Each event marked me separately, I like to remember each one. There are ups and downs in sports. Even challenging periods have given me some experience.
As a former national team member, what would you highlight as something that adorns our players?
Sport, handball, is the one that gives a common denominator to former and current handball players. Those girls who opt for handball are ready for a demanding sport, in which you often have to get up and move on when these competitors are laid on the ground. So it is in life. I think our chosen species is a team of warriors. Both then and today. I am sure that our girls will do their best at the European Championships and we can be proud of them.
Is it more challenging to work on or next to the court?
It’s definitely harder to be by the court. Many times, a little for a joke, a little for the truth, I say enjoy yourself playing, even though you don’t realize at the time that this is the most beautiful role. I’ve been in a few different roles and I sign that it’s the most beautiful to play.
Was the thought “Enjoy playing” the first thought or advice you gave to your daughters following in your footsteps?
Definitely. Given that my husband and I both come from sports, we wanted the girls to go on a sports career. Mainly because sport gives you a school for life. They both opted for handball. I’m glad they’re in this industry, but enjoying the game comes first. As long as they enjoy it, I will support them. If you don’t do something with your heart, you can’t be successful at it.
The two main themes at the Women’s EHF Euro 2022 will be sustainable development and the empowerment of women in society.
The upcoming championship, as the largest sporting event in Slovenia in 2022, will be an excellent opportunity for both of these areas. Both the national team members and the ambassadors who are part of the story will make the public aware that both aspects are extremely important.
In addition to you, there are 16 successful women in the group of ambassadors that you have already met. Which of them would you highlight in particular?
It is a pleasure to be part of this group of women. If I had to single out just one of this elite, it would be our captain with energy, enthusiasm and great wisdom, dr. Natasa Pirc Musar. She can be seen to have been a handball player (laughs).
How sustainable are you in everyday life?
We also strive for sustainability at home, in this spirit my husband and I raise our daughters. We separate waste, we don’t drink water from plastic bottles, but we have glass bottles. If possible, we go somewhere on foot or by bike. We are respectful of food, we do not throw away what remains. This is also the recipe of my mother, who taught me that everything can be “shared” and something delicious made. This is how I work, but it is good that my daughters also have such a starting point for life.
In your opinion, what are the things that every Slovenian should watch at least one match of our national team.
Our girls deserve it. They are a team that promises a lot. Even if they fail in a match, the Slovenes deserve to support it. Sport is a living thing, there are ups and downs.
What do you think will be the main legacy of the Women’s EHF Euro 2022 that awaits us?
The popularization of women’s handball will be extremely important. I believe that after the championship and after the successful performances of our national team, more girls will decide for our beautiful sport, which is an equation for life – hard, demanding, but so is life. You have to get up again and again and move on. I would like the level of women’s handball in Slovenia to rise. Here I aim (also) at club handball. I have great respect for people who work in women’s handball because I know what they have to deal with. I believe that in the end we will be able to say that handball is more popular, that Slovenian clubs have more sponsors and that we have raised everything to a higher level.
Where will Slovenia finish at the European Championships?
It is very ungrateful to predict. I said it at the first event and I will repeat that thought today. I have a feeling that Slovenia will win a medal.