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16.11.2018, 15:01
Julie Bonaventura: “Sometimes we feel like UFOs in handball”
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FEATURE: The Bonaventura sisters, Julie and Charlotte, have risen to the top of international refereeing as a pioneering female pair. Their achievements mean they well and truly belong in the "Handball Inspires Generations" campaign
 

Julie Bonaventura: “Sometimes we feel like UFOs in handball”

When you talk about firsts in handball refereeing, the Bonaventura sisters must come to mind. Even if you cannot tell who of the identical twins is who, everybody in the handball world has come to know Julie and Charlotte. But though their naming on the list for the upcoming EHF EURO 2018 in France was expected, their debut at the whistle was – as for many of the high-level referees – simply down to luck.

“There was never a plan”

“Up to a point, our then teammates forced us to get the whistle. We had tournaments during which we needed referees when our team was not playing. We did it once, and then all the girls were like: go and do it again. With time, what was like something we had to do turned into something we took pleasure in,” recalls Julie.

And then they climbed the steps to high-level refereeing – fourth division, third division and so on, until they reached the final of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. After that came World Championship finals and the EHF EURO Final in 2014 and, latest of all, the Women’s EHF Champions League Final in Budapest.

“When we were younger, we never thought of doing all those things. There was never a plan, we didn’t started refereeing with all those things in mind. It kind of came to us, even though there was a lot of work involved,” says Julie.

And just as a player at the top of his career, neither of the referees want to look back on what they have achieved just yet. At 38, they still have time to add to their already impressive record. “When you’re in the rush of things, you don’t realise what you’ve achieved. We probably will when we stop, but for now it feels natural. We don’t want to get overwhelmed by everything by thinking too much about what’s happening to us right now,” continues Julie.

The Bonaventura sisters have been pioneers in many fields of refereeing. For instance, they were the first female referees to whistle an Olympic final, and also the first female pair to take part in a Men’s World Championship, in 2017.

If you wonder how it might feel to be two women among mostly men, the answer comes out straightforward: “Sometimes, we feel like we’re UFOs in handball. We’re kind of pioneers but, then again, it kind of landed on us. And maybe if we’d been 10 years younger, we might have the third or the fourth to do such things. But of course, we feel privileged,” says Julie.

Being the first at doing many things might spark some different kind of interest and the majority of people in handball have welcomed the Bonaventura sisters as one of their own. Players and coaches alike appreciate them and they seem to even have some kind of a fan base, being an example for the younger generations to start refereeing.

“If we can send the message to young girls that high-level refereeing is something they can achieve, then that’s brilliant. We sometimes get young boys and girls telling us that they’re fans of what we do, but it still feels weird. It makes us laugh, I mean, we’re not rock stars!” Julie laughs.

Icing on the cake for French handball

Another special occasion in their career will be the forthcoming EHF EURO 2018 in France, their home country. Having already whistled at the World Championship last year, they have the experience of a home tournament – but this is just another one on the list.

“We don’t prepare for it in a different manner than we do with the other ones. I think people were more curious last time because it was the first time women referees were part of a men’s competition,” remembers Julie. So will this EHF EURO really be just another tournament? “No, the staff at the hotel will speak French! But otherwise, we don’t put any pressure on ourselves about it.”

As referees, they might not proceed all the way to the end of the competition if France are successful – but that is not something lived as a burden by the Bonaventura sisters. “We’re aware of that before the start, and that’s the same thing for every referee. And we also know that some pairs might be better than us. We actually face the same competition as players do,” Julie says.

And if they had to choose between their own final and a final for France, the answer comes out as quick as lightning: “A final for France! They can qualify for the Olympics and they have to build on what they did lately. A title for France would be the icing on the big cake French handball has built over the past few years.”


TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg
 
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