Message from young Bosnian sportswomen: “Don’t allow prejudices. Be brave, persistent, and believe in yourselves.”

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Young women and successful athletes – Milena Nikolić, Lana Pudar, the Sipović sisters – Ajla, Nejra, and Emina – are the best and greatest ambassadors of our country, proudly standing shoulder to shoulder with sports giants, breaking their own and others’ records, and proudly inscribing themselves in Bosnian-Herzegovinian and world history.

They agree on one thing – to fight for the colors of their flag and celebrate successes in their country with their people are feelings that nothing will ever surpass. The message to girls, as well as to all women: “Be brave, persistent, and dream. The world of sports awaits you,” and the most famous Bosnian-Herzegovinian mermaid from Mostar adds: “Believe in yourself and do the hard work. There are no shortcuts!”

Milena Nikolić is one of the best European female footballers showing that there are no limits to her talent and hard work, yet she unconditionally returns to play for the colors of her country whenever the opportunity arises. The famous Sipović sisters, Ajla, Nejra, and Emina, together and individually, have charted new paths for Bosnian-Herzegovinian karate in the world and shown that support can indeed be a trigger for success. The same ideal follows the most famous Bosnian-Herzegovinian mermaid in history – Lana Pudar, a young swimmer whose name echoed around the world even before she turned eighteen and who already then deserved a place among the most famous sportswomen Bosnia and Herzegovina has ever had.

They spoke about their sports journey for Balkan Diskurs on the occasion of International Women’s Day, offering some advice for girls who may aspire to carry the title of successful Bosnian-Herzegovinian sportswomen alongside their names.

From childhood battles with prejudices to the throne of women’s football

Milena Nikolić made her football beginnings in her hometown of Trebinje and at “Leotar,” a club which was not publicly known for the existence of women’s football. Although she excels in all positions on the field, this 32-year-old plays as a forward for Swiss club FC Basel. It’s impossible to list all her awards and recognitions. She is a prominent member of the Bosnian national team, and her statement “It is an honour for me to wear the jersey with the national emblem, we will not give up,” has won sympathies across the region.

Milena Nikolić made her football beginnings in her hometown of Trebinje, and at the “Leotar” club. Photo: Facebook

As a child, she harbored immense love for the most important side activity in the world. When she started training in her childhood, women in general were more often in a subordinate position and faced prejudices. Additionally, training conditions were not at an admirable level as female footballers practiced on undeveloped fields without changing rooms or club facilities. It was, as she emphasizes, difficult to survive, but love conquered all. Today, she is a professional athlete with maximum dedication, and each visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina means a lot to her.

Regarding the overall sports growth in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she believes that it has progressed over the last ten years, with many more girls wanting to play football. Additionally, the national teams are developing in the right direction and playing better each year. However, Milena adds that there is still much to be done and developed to approach European standards, especially concerning infrastructure and media attention.

As for the advantages of training in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she mentions the proximity to family and friends. However, Milena notes that a drawback is the lack of investment in women’s football, resulting in lower quality because girls opt for other professions or sports where there is more investment or higher earnings. She emphasizes that the infrastructure for playing football is at a very low level and that women’s football receives very little media coverage.

“Women in sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina definitely do not receive as much attention as they deserve, neither from the authorities nor from ordinary people. Generally, sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not followed as much as they should be, as some other things are systematically imposed on us, pushing sports into the background, which is terrifying to me. Fewer and fewer people are engaging in sports, and consequently, the interest in following sports is diminishing,” said Milena.

Reflecting on football as the most important side activity in the world, she emphasizes that the stands at men’s Premier League matches are almost empty in most games, not to mention women’s football, as there are people who don’t even know that women’s football exists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is very discouraging. On the other hand, she explains that there is a very small number of those who regularly follow and support them, mostly family and friends, and for that, they owe them enormous gratitude.

For now, she doesn’t plan to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina, at least not in the near future, and we will see her in Swiss Basel until 2025. As she herself says, she will see what the future holds. Her message to all girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina who would like to roll the professional ball on the grassy field like her: “Believe in and follow your dreams, and never allow prejudices to stand in the way of achieving your dreams.”

The Sarajevo diamonds shine worldwide.

How often do you hear about three sisters standing side by side achieving the greatest successes in one field? Such examples are indeed rare, but did you know that one such example is hidden in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Sisters Ajla, Nejra, and Emina Sipović have elevated Bosnian karate to the highest level in just a few years, so much so that the name of our country shines proudly on the world podiums. They have brought hundreds of medals to Bosnia and Herzegovina so far. Their skill is best demonstrated by the fact that they have been known to win competitions that had up to 5,000 competitors.

Sisters Sipović – an incredible story of success, love and togetherness. Photo: Facebook

A typical day for the Sipović sisters consists of three training sessions. These are great efforts, sacrifices, but also a struggle to achieve success. Despite the challenges, Nejra emphasizes that the joy and satisfaction that come from sports growth and representing their country surpass all these difficulties.

When it comes to practicing karate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are several advantages, but also challenges that the Sipović sisters face. Unfortunately, the lack of adequate conditions and government support is often emphasized, which can diminish the enthusiasm and motivation of athletes.

“The state doesn’t invest enough in athletes, resulting in financial difficulties that many athletes face. Compared to other countries, our system of support for athletes may not be as developed, which can make achieving top results more difficult,” said Nejra. She added that despite these challenges, there is a bright spot in her life, and that is the support of her family.

As emphasized, the support and encouragement of family are immensely important. “Their presence makes me stronger and more motivated. Together, we manage to overcome obstacles and challenges that come with training in our country. It is precisely this support that gives me the strength to continue and achieve my sports dreams, despite all the challenges that may arise along the way,” says Nejra.

When it comes to supporting women in sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she agrees with Milena that there is some progress, but there is still room for improvement.

“The authorities have begun to recognize the importance of supporting women’s sports, but we still face challenges such as insufficient financial support. More investments and concrete measures are needed to create better conditions for the development of women’s sports. As for the support from ordinary people, we can notice an increasing interest and support. However, there is still a need for greater visibility of women’s sports events and results to raise awareness and promote support for us,” Nejra explained.

Nejra’s goal is to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continue building her sports career in her homeland.

“I believe we have extraordinary potentials and resources that can support the development of sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I want to be part of that process. I plan to continue training and competing, but I also want to be an inspiration to young athletes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I see my future in Bosnia and Herzegovina as an athlete who will not only achieve success in sports but also contribute to the social community through the promotion of sports, a healthy lifestyle, and positive values. I believe that together we can build a better future for athletes and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” emphasized Nejra, referring to the message she wants to convey to future young female karate athletes.

She advises all young girls, as well as female athletes, to believe in themselves and their dreams: “That is a golden rule that is worth following regardless of the challenges that may arise along the way; it is important to remain persistent and believe in your abilities. There are no limits to what you can achieve if you have faith in yourself. Secondly, be prepared to work hard and be dedicated to your sport. Achieving success requires a lot of effort, hard work, and sacrifice. Be prepared to put in the effort and be committed to your training and goals. Also, be open to learning and growth. Never stop looking for ways to improve in your sport.”

Nejra adds that young sportswomen should be prepared to listen to coaches, accept advice, criticism, and work on improving their skills.

“In the end, never forget that sport is a journey full of challenges, but also joy. Enjoy every moment, learn from defeats, and celebrate your successes. Your love for sports will guide you and inspire you to achieve everything you desire. All it takes is your courage, perseverance, and belief in yourself. Be brave, be persistent, and dream big. The world of sports awaits you,” Nejra encouraged all girls and future adult women who will build their careers right in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ajla and Emina mostly agreed with their sister, but Ajla had a few more words to add.

“Being a female athlete in Bosnia and Herzegovina comes with a passion for sports and challenges in facing limitations. I would describe my life as full of challenges, but also incredible moments of growth and success in the sports world of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The advantages of training in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the camaraderie and support among athletes, as well as opportunities for development and progress. The disadvantages are the lack of adequate resources and infrastructure, which can hinder professional development,” said Ajla.

Ajla Sipović became the junior vice-champion of Europe! Photo: Facebook

She believes that women in Bosnian sports are now recognized and supported, but there is still room for improvement. Investment in Bosnian sports is being made, but sometimes it’s not enough, and the reality is that the audience appreciates women in sports and follows their successes, but the support could be greater. Her plans for the future involve working on sports development because she is still young and believes that a great future awaits her. Ajla sees herself in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where, as she emphasizes, she will continue to fight with all her heart for her beloved homeland.

She tells young sportswomen and girls who dream about entering the world of sports to follow their dreams, be persistent and believe in themselves. “I would advise them to surround themselves with positive people and to ignore obstacles. The message is that they can achieve anything they want if they work hard and believe in themselves,” emphasized Ajla.

The Mostar gem wins even in the world’s greatest depths.

Choosing strong words that could describe the greatness and importance of Lana Pudar for Bosnia and Herzegovina in every aspect, we are sure that it would not be an easy task even for the most eloquent writers. This 18-year-old girl is a specialist and multiple record holder for the dolphin style, and her technique of breaking through the water in just a few years conquered the whole world, greatly raising Bosnia and Herzegovina on the list of successful countries in sport. The audience gave her the nickname “mermaid,” as she has been spending her days in the water since childhood, training, fighting, and becoming Bosnia’s most precious water jewel.

Pudar, currently one of the most famous sports names in the region, tells our women and all readers that the recognition of women in sports determines their results, in principle the same is the case with men. She does not see any difference or discrimination in relation to women, that is, she has not felt it on her own skin.

Lana Pudar is a Bosnian and Herzegovian competitive swimmer specializing in the butterfly events. Photo: Facebook

When it comes to investing in sports, Pudar stated that at the beginning of her professional career, it was very difficult. “This is best known from my home club ‘Orka’ and my family. Later, when I made the first serious results, more serious investments started, allowing us not to worry about whether we will be able to finance some of our basic needs, such as going to competitions or training camps,” Lana said.

She continued to express that the support she receives and feels from people in our country and the diaspora is “simply incredible”.

“It’s fascinating wherever I’ve gone for a major competition, from Australia to Japan, there has been a huge number of our people in the stands giving me great support. Especially at the last World Championship in Doha, where there were over 200 fans from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the stands. So, people from our country really appreciate and respect what my team and I do,” Lana boasted.

Like in all areas of life in our country, including sports, Lana believes there is a lack of systematic organization, and athletes in our country feel it on their own skin.

“All of that has its charm, and such situations often give me an extra motivation to be even better. I don’t think there is any difference between men and women in that regard. Especially when it comes to top-level sports, which have their own specific rules and regulations, which are the same for both men and women. My sports growth has been exactly as it should be, and I think my results prove that” Lana said.

When asked about the future, she answers that her plans are mostly short term, which is the upcoming period now until the Olympic Games and the Olympic Games themselves, while all other plans will wait.

“I have time to make quality decisions for my future, but I would definitely love it the most if I had an Olympic pool in my city and could go to the biggest world competitions from my city. There is no city more beautiful than Mostar anywhere in the world. And I have seen quite a few in the past few years,” Lana stated.

Her message to all young people who want to try their hand at any sport in our country is: “When you want to be good at any job you do, the message you need to send is universal and very simple. Believe in yourself and do the hard work. There are no shortcuts!”

Neda Vukadin is a graduate journalist and trained Balkan Diskurs correspondent from Banja Luka. Currently, she is a final-year student pursuing a Master's degree in Public Relations at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Mostar, as well as a Master's degree in Journalism at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Banja Luka. Over the past years, Neda has written and reported for Balkan Diskurs on inspirational individuals, contemporary heroes, the position of women in society, culture, and art. Her journey in journalism has been paved with exclusively positive stories from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and she envisions her future within the borders of her country. Neda advocates for freedom of speech and media reporting, professional journalism, and providing a broader picture of life in our country, which is not always necessarily as dark as it is often portrayed.

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