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

Vanja Cernivec was the first female international scout in NBA history (London Lions handout/PA)
Vanja Cernivec was the first female international scout in NBA history (London Lions handout/PA)

New London Lions women’s team general manager Vanja Cernivec hopes the next generation of females aspiring to sports leadership roles will be seen as very much the norm rather than trying to break fresh ground.

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

Cernivec’s appointment follows a successful spell as international scout for the Chicago Bulls – where she became the first female in the NBA’s history to fulfil the position.

Research commissioned by the Lions revealed 44 per cent of females are not made aware of the career opportunities in sport outside of playing.

Part of the study, which was conducted across a nationally representative cohort of 2,090 respondents, also showed a further 41 per cent said there are not enough role models in sport management for them to look up to.

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

It is a position which Cernivec feels can only help show there is a clear pathway for anyone to take on leading roles within a sporting organisation, regardless of their gender.

England head coach Sarina Wiegman
Sarina Wiegman guided 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 speak to journalists. I want to move away from that conversation and let’s start talking about the GM role, what it takes for a team to be successful,” Cernivec told the PA news agency.

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

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

“I think it’s a huge statement from (London Lions owners) 777 that they actually kind of assigned this position, that it doesn’t matter who it would go to.

“The fact that I am a woman and now in this position is maybe having more media outreach because of it.

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

“But these high profile jobs that women are getting at the NBA level, it’s not enough.

“We need to do more at the entry level, so women get exposed to the entry-level jobs and get to grow within organisations and experience from coaching, from an office or from any businesses you look at. That’s the way – and not just women, minority groups (also).

“I am a true believer of diversity brings immunity – anything in life you do, you need to (be) diverse and that goes on hiring people as well.”

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

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

Cernivec, though, also hopes to use her remit as global director of London Lions Academy to help boost the prospects for potential future development.

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

The Great Britain Basketball team with children from the Kingston Wildcats
Basketball is the country’s second most popular team sport (Steve Parsons/PA)

Cernivec feels focusing on fun for younger age groups through a ‘mini-basketball’ format could prove a big hit like in other European countries.

“I have seen it in Spain, in the Czech (Republic), a lot of European countries use it for until under 12, so the kids play with a size five ball and lower hoops,” Cernivec said.

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

“I think installing mini-hoops all around the country so the kids can actually start enjoying the game at that age already would be crucial.”