‘Aunt Iva’

One of the only women on the field at 2018 World Cup says women deserve larger roles in soccer

Croatia national team manager Iva Olivari sits alongside soccer stars Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic. (Instagram)

Iva Olivari, the first woman to manage the Croatian national soccer team and one of the only women sitting on any team’s bench during this year’s World Cup, is advocating for better representation of women in the men’s game — off the field, not on it. Olivari, a former top tennis player who became the women’s champion in Croatia and the former Balkan country of Yugoslavia at just 14, has worked for the Croatian Football Federation since 1992. During that time — and especially following her promotion to manager of the national team in 2012 — she says she’s had to face more than her fair share of detractors.

“I have not been discriminated against, but I have heard some remarks like, ‘She should not be there, it would be better if it was a man,’ and ‘He would probably do it better, she doesn’t know much about football,’ and stuff like that. But I don’t care about these remarks,” she told AFP.

What she does care about, she says, are that the players are satisfied with her work managing the team.

“The guys are fantastic. I love them a lot and they respect me. With the older ones I have a sister-brother relationship, because of age. But now the youngest ones already call me Aunt,” Olivari reportedly told several European outlets.

Beyond her work, she added, she hopes to see more women follow in her footsteps by getting involved in the sport on the business side. “We don’t have to play football to be represented in football,” she explained. “We can do a lot of different things that have any kind of connection, or that have something do with administration, with management of the players, with transfer of players. There’s a lot of stuff that women can do to help and improve the development of football.”

Delegate Silvia Dorschnerova can be seen alongside Fernando Hierro, Head coach of Spain, as they try to stop an argument between both benches after a VAR decision during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Spain and Morocco at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 25, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Olivari is not the only woman on the sidelines at the 2018 World Cup. Returning for what the sports website Goal reports is her fifth World Cup is Silvia Dorschnerova, who serves as a delegate for Spain’s national team. According to Goal, as a delegate, Dorschnerova is responsible for informing the fourth referee of the personnel changes the team’s coach makes throughout a game. When games aren’t being played, Dorschnerova serves as a liaison between Spain’s coaching staff and FIFA. According to a 2010 profile by the BBC, Dorschnerova is “like the mother of the players” due to her uncanny ability to create bonds with and nurture them.

Watch video of Olivari’s interview with AFP below.

Read the full story at Kienyke.

CORRECTION: An earlier headline and version of this story indicated Olivari is the only woman serving on the bench of a men’s World Cup team. Silvia Dorschnerova, a delegate for Spain’s national team, is one the sidelines as well.

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