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MAJA ZALAZNIK: “IF ANYONE, SLOVENIANS CAN DO IN SPORT!”

Seventeen outstanding and successful women from a variety of fields came together. The women’s handball team will chase the top ranking at the domestic championships in November, and the ambassadors will support them from the stands. Maja Zalaznik believes that Slovenians will come together again, not only in Celje’s Zlatorog and Ljubljana’s Stožice, but also in the two main areas of the upcoming event, in the field of women’s empowerment in sports and sustainability.

Maja Zalaznik (formerly Makovec Brenčič) is a full professor of international business and head of the International Business program at the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana. In 2013, she was appointed Vice-Rector of the University of Ljubljana for the field of knowledge transfer.

The former Minister of Education, Science and Sport has held a number of management positions in her career, and it is impossible to single them all out. Among others, she was the president of the Slovenian Marketing Association and vice-president of the Advertising Tribunal at the Public Association of Slovenia.

Who is Maja Zalaznik?
Professor at the Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana and sports enthusiast. Someone who is not only involved in sports, but also wants to help him. Above all, I am a proud ambassador of the Women’s EHF Euro 2022, which will soon be in Slovenia.

Sport is close to you from an academic point of view. Where and in what way is his positive role in society reflected?
In many places. I always say that sport is the binder of all of us. It not only connects but also motivates and inspires. Slovenians have it in their DNA. But why is it so important to promote it from the first days of our lives? In order to adopt motor habits in the first place and maintain a healthy attitude towards sports values. It would be right for us all to live them.

One of your subjects at the Faculty of Economics is also marketing in sports. Are we actually even aware of his power and the opportunities he offers us?
We are increasingly aware of this. My students come from different circles, including companies, which means that we are already creating synergies on how to help each other with new knowledge by developing new marketing activities. That we are closer to customers through sports. I think that a number of Slovenian companies already understand and follow fans through sports as their customers.

Why is sport so attractive to spectators, sponsors, investors?
Sport has a special charge, an emotional charge. We identify with sports, we become one with an athlete. We want to see, feel and experience sport, which is why it is so important in the thinking of sponsors, companies and those who design marketing activities. We can intertwine many values between business and sport. If a company is committed to its goals and if it believes it can do it, then the connection to sport is natural.

Where do you see the parallels between the two spheres?
There’s a lot of them. Especially in strategies and goals, we also see who supports the sport and who is our customer. At the national economic level, it is possible to measure how much sport contributes to the economy and society. Not just now, but in the long run. This multiplier is on average larger than all other economic activities in 2018, which indicates that synergies can be very strong in terms of value, content and sustainability.

What economic impact will the European Championship have in Slovenia, where do you see its potential?
The most important thing is to bring women’s handball closer to all of us. Women’s empowerment and sustainability are two pillars that we ambassadors are happy to support. They are a current challenge for the whole society in Slovenia and around the world, where the differences are too great. Why not say with this kind of championship that we are equal regardless of gender and regardless of whether we play handball, football, ski, jump… We are people!

Sport or handball will not be the only red thread of the November championship, which will be hosted by Celje and Ljubljana. There is also women’s empowerment and sustainability. What have you internalized in this area?
Sustainability is a big word that we know how to put into practice. A huge number of companies have developed clear strategies on how to achieve sustainable standards. I strive to have the women’s handball championship live after them, which will leave an impetus to future generations and young people. Recently, I have been working on the guidelines for the sustainability of the world’s largest Nordic Championships, which will be held in 2023 in Planica. With colleagues from the business world, we are looking for solutions on how to design a sustainable manager program. And in that I see a great connection with sports. Sport is permanence in itself. If we are active, we usually have a healthier and longer life. Let’s think the same way in the wider environment, in the business world. Sustainability is not just a word, but clear standards and guidelines that we want to achieve. For society, for the world. We only have one Earth.

What have you made sustainable in your daily life?
Sustainability is first a responsibility to ourselves and then to everyone around us. At the faculty, we are developing sustainability guidelines, and we are also trying to be as ecological as possible. We are dealing with a great transformation in the knowledge of how to prepare new business models in a more sustainable way. That they will not take what is precious in the world. Resources that are limited and people who have their own limited options.

What basic steps would you recommend to people who are opting for a sustainable lifestyle?
Let’s look at our home first. A tiny step every day to keep a few raw materials more than they would otherwise. You may not always wear a new one, but recycle and use recycled ones. Consider how to save energy. Tiny patterns can quickly become our habit.

Women’s EHF Euro 2022 ambassadors, you have your own national team. A strong cast of successful women from different fields came together and represents one of the pillars of the competition organization. How much is it necessary to talk about gender equality in the 21st century?
We need to talk about the equality of all of us. I have already mentioned that there are a lot of girls and women in the world who do not have equal opportunities. That’s not right. It is through such stories as the Women’s EHF Euro 2022 that we can contribute to raising awareness of the empowerment of everything in this world. The women’s story is especially important. Why not encourage young girls who believe that handball is something they want to do in life?

Which of the ambassadors left the biggest impression on you and why?
I know them all. They are all women with a capital letter, they all live their vision, they are committed to their goals and they are extremely brave. They know how to cross boundaries so we can learn from them. I am grateful that they have stepped into it in different areas of my life.

In your opinion, why should every Slovene watch at least one match of the Women’s EHF Euro 2022?
Sport connects, sports inspires and motivates. If we know how to encourage athletes, we can do the most to make the Slovenian DNA in sports real and admirable! The result is not important, it is important to show what we can do. When we enter the hall, we need to feel national pride and share it. We really know how to stand together in sports.

What do you think will be the main legacy of the European Championship?
Many new skills will be developed in both areas, both women’s empowerment and sustainability. We will encourage young people to believe in women’s disciplines and women’s sports. If anyone, we Slovenes can do it in sports. Let’s transfer this “We can, let’s connect” to other areas as well.

For the end, a somewhat ungrateful question. In your opinion, which place will the Slovenian national team occupy at the European Championships?
Whatever the end result, I am already proud. The national team is preparing for new challenges, while trying to work and work as a team. This is the most important message. Act as a team with a national charge! I think we will feel this even more at the championship itself.

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