I want this to be the norm – Vanja Cernivec hopes more women will get leadership roles

The new general manager of the London Lions women’s team, Vanja Cernivec, hopes that the next generation of aspiring women in sports leadership roles will be seen as the norm rather than trying to break new ground.

Cernivec, born in Slovenia, took up her role last month, which also includes becoming global director of the London Lions Academy, and is the first female general manager of a British Women’s Basketball League team.

Cernivec’s appointment follows a successful period as an international scout for the Chicago Bulls – where she became the first woman in NBA history to hold the position.

A survey commissioned by Lions revealed that 44% of women are not aware of sport career opportunities outside of sport.

Part of the study, which was carried out on a nationally representative cohort of 2,090 respondents, also showed that another 41% said there are not enough role models in sport management for them to look up to.

After England’s success at Euro 2022, the profile of women’s sport is now very front and centre.

It’s a position that Cernivec feels can only help show that there is a clear path for anyone to assume leadership roles within a sports organization, regardless of gender.

Sarina Wiegman led England to success in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley (Steve Parsons/PA)

“I want this to be a norm. I don’t want to have this conversation every time I talk to journalists. I want to get out of this conversation and start talking about the role of the GM, what it takes for a team to be successful,” Cernivec told PA news agency.

“I understand that I have to be vocal on that part as well and support women to push this agenda forward, but on the other hand I’m a GM – and if you were talking to a male GM, we probably wouldn’t have that conversation, would we?

“I would say the pressure should be on other teams to hire (in) the same roles.

“I think it’s a big statement from the 777 (owners of the London Lions) that they’ve actually assigned this position, that it doesn’t matter who it goes to.

“The fact that I’m a woman and now in this position maybe has more media coverage because of that.

“The England football team has done a great job demonstrating some of the leadership that young girls can now aspire to.

“But these high-level jobs that women are getting at the NBA level are not enough.

“We need to do more at the entry level so that women are exposed to entry level jobs and grow within organizations and have coaching experience, from an office or whatever company you see. That’s the way – and not just women, minority groups (too).

“I am a true believer that diversity brings immunity – whatever in life you do, you need to (be) diverse and that keeps hiring people too.”

Cernivec, 40, takes on his new role with the Lions’ women’s team to build on the success of last season, which saw them complete a housecleaning of the Play-Offs, Cup, Trophy and WBBL Championship.

New signings Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Katsiaryna Snytsina and Taylor Murray have arrived to bolster the team ahead of the upcoming FIBA ​​EuroCup schedule.

Cernivec, however, also hopes to use her tenure as global director of the London Lions Academy to help raise prospects for possible future development.

An estimated 1.3 million people regularly play basketball in the UK, making it the second most popular team sport after football, but historically it has not received as much central funding as others.

The Great Britain Children's Basketball Team of the Kingston Wildcats

Basketball is the second most popular team sport in the country (Steve Parsons/PA)

Cernivec believes that focusing on fun for younger age groups through a ‘mini-basketball’ format can be a big hit, as in other European countries.

“I’ve seen it in Spain, in the Czech Republic, a lot of European countries use it even under 12, so kids play with a size five ball and smaller hoops,” Cernivec said.

“I saw kids having fun and the scores were 70 to 100. They were being able to do all the moves they see and then (when they’re older) they switch to a normal bow.

“I think installing mini hoops across the country so kids can really start enjoying the game at that age would be crucial.”

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