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04.11.2014, 09:46
Two whistles, two babies and one dream
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NEWS FEATURE: The Croatian referees Helena Crnojevic and Emina Kostecki Radic have been a referee pair for 14 years and recently gave birth to their daughters just days apart
 

Two whistles, two babies and one dream

It seems too good to be true, but this happened to two lifelong friends and colleagues in Croatia. Two women, cousins, from the same city, share the same life, the same hobby, the same passion for handball and refereeing and even shared the same time to become pregnant and to give birth to their girls.

This is the story of Helena Crnojevic and Emina Kostecki Radic and it all started more than 30 years ago in the Croatian city of Kutina. Helena’s father was a handball referee, while Emina’s father was the doctor of a handball team.

“Since birth we had handball in our veins,” says Helena. Both joined the local handball club, played in the same team and in 2000, at the age of 20, both decided to become referees – a decision, which changed their lives.

“We were supported by older and more experienced colleagues, as at this time it was not easy for women’s pair to officiate matches in Croatia,” Emina explains.

After finishing school, both went to study in Zagreb and nowadays Emina is a professor of physical education, while Helena is working on her PHD in biotechnology, working in the administration of the Croatian water management.

After improving in domestic competition, they were selected for the European Handball Federation’s Young Referees’ Programme, starting their international career at the Partille Cup in Gothenburg.

Since 2008 they are on the EHF list of referees and whistled matches at three Younger Age Category EHF EURO events. Later they also were part of the Global Referee Training Programme of the IHF and were nominated for the 2012 Youth World Championship in Montenegro.

This event was the last “test” for their so far most important event, officiating matches at the 2012 Women’s EHF EURO in Serbia.

And this EURO was supposed to mark a break for Emina and Helena. “Together with our partners we decided to raise families after the EURO,” Emina says: “But at this point we definitely could not know what would happen and whether it would work out.”

It worked in perfect harmony, both became pregnant and the surprise was huge when they revealed the secret to each other.

Emina was due to give birth on 16 September, Helena a day later.

“It was simply unbelievable. We shared all our life and now we even shared the birth for our daughters,” says Helena.

Emina actually gave birth to Jana on 9 September, while Nika, Helena’s daughter, was born on 12 September.

Recent events mean that the current focus for both is far away from handball – but not for a long time.

“In November or December we want to start training again, and in early 2015 we want to return to the court as referees,” reveals Helena.

“It is only possible and manageable with the support of our partners, our families and our friends,” she adds: “In both cases it is the first granddaughter or grandson in our families, so both grandmas and grandpas are eager to help.”

Both share the dream of being nominated for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. “Since we have reached a certain step on the ladder, we at least have physical training two hours every day, this is what we plan again.

“Handball is such an important part of our life that we really missed it during our pregnancy. So it was obvious that we would resume at a certain point,” admits Emina.

For Helena it is a “school of life” being a handball referee: “It made us strong, it gives us confidence, it helps us learn how to cope with defeats.”

Officiating matches in the first Croatian men’s league was one of the biggest tasks early on for the pair.

“In the beginning it was hard to earn respect, but then it changed. Some players and fans said: Go back to the kitchen, play your role as housewives and do not enter this men’s sport. But fortunately we have some colleagues who always stood at our side, so it became normal for us to officiate men’s matches,” Emina says.

“And when we went international games, for example in Scandinavia, we were positively surprised that in other countries it is absolutely normal for a women’s pair to be in this position,” Helena adds.

From now on they will share their life not only in terms of handball, but also in terms of their daughters growing up at the same time. Helena and Emina both agree that they will not need a whistle and red and yellow cards in their education.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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