Maryia Badzich was one of 19 women to be nominated by their federations for the biennial Women’s Leadership Award. Badzich’s name was put forward by the Belarus Athletic Federation and she was presented with her award and winning artwork on stage at the Golden Tracks award ceremony in Tallinn, Estonia at the end of October.
An alumni of the European Athletics Young Leaders Forum, Badzich has worked at the Belarus Athletic Federation since 2014 and she has been deeply involved in the promotion and branding of The Match but also the organisation of the Minsk Half Marathon this year.
How did it feel to be nominated for the Women’s Leadership Award in 2019?
Actually, I didn’t know that I had been nominated by the Belarus Athletic Federation. I was really surprised when I received an e-mail asking me to come up to the stage and be awarded at the Golden Tracks. Of course, I appreciate that I was presented with this award; it is a big honour but at the same time it is a responsibility and I will continue to do my best for our sport. I think there’s only one right way to do something: be passionate and go for it 101 percent.
Were you surprised when you found out you were going to be presented with your award on stage at the Golden Tracks?
At that moment, I knew that I would hear my name and I was ready. Still, I was excited but it was still very worrying to climb the track to the stage in high heels! It was designed at an angle of about 30 degrees, and all the time I was afraid of falling but it’s the same in life: I will try, even if the complexity of the task is sometimes scary, to cope with it no matter what.
How would you describe the past year? I’m guessing it must have been a very busy one with not only The Match but also Dynamic New Athletics!
Oh, this year has been extremely long! Was I ready for it? No! But it is our style at the Belarus Athletic Federation. Only challenging tasks develop you as a person. I am open to trying something new each time but if you are involved in important events such as The Match Europe v USA or European Games you cannot afford to make mistakes. The Match was first in history and for us it was a great chance to write the Belarus Athletic Federation and Minsk into athletics history. We were so inspired by the honour to host The Match and we made the most of this chance.
In this period, our team worked almost every weekend and there was very little time to relax but can you imagine what our emotions were like after these events? I must add the The Match was not the end for us. On 15 September we organised the Minsk Half Marathon with 40,000 participants. All this summer, I thought that I would sleep all week but 16 September came and I woke up a totally happy person and realised that we did it! And we can be proud.
What were your main roles at these events?
I can’t say that I was deeply involved with the European Games but The Match took up all the season. My responsibilities for this event were: promotion including website and social media and all the advertising; ticketing and branding. I have to say it was a fantastic experience and brought with it many lessons which will be very useful for the preparation of the European Athletics Team Championships Super League in 2021.
After The Match we may look at the organisation from a different angle. We know what we must improve. Anyway, The Match received very high marks and very warm feedback from athletes and the spectators. Of course, the impact of The Match is very important for promotion of our sport in Belarus.
As you said, Minsk is also staging the 2021 European Athletics Team Championships. Has preparatory work already started on this event?
Yes, we have already started. For the preparation of The Match we only had one year. It is a very short timeframe for such a high level event but we did it. However, our conclusion is that it is better to start as early as you can. And today our team is in a phase of planning and negotiations with potential partners, hotels, venue etc. Also, Minsk is hosting World Athletics Race Walking Championships next spring.
When did you begin to develop an interest in athletics and when did you start to have aspirations of working in athletics?
My involvement in athletics began not so long ago when I started to work for Belarus Athletic Federation. From 2012 I worked with Vadim Devyatovskiy as a Deputy assistant and when he was elected as the President of Belarus Athletic Federation he assigned me to the position of executive director. In December 2018 he promoted me to the role of the vice-president. I am very thankful to him, because he believed in me and showed me the amazing world of athletics.
I believe you used to be a European Athletics Young Leader. Did this have a positive impact in helping you to develop your career?
Oh, sure! The Young Leaders Forum is a fantastic opportunity to get knowledge, inspiration and motivation and meet great like-minded young people from all over Europe. I must say that everything started there in Amsterdam [at the European Championships in 2016]. Some of the alumni have become my good friends and we are still in contact. Great memories!
There seems to be a greater degree of gender equality in the staffing structure of the Belarus Athletic Federation than a lot of other Member Federations in Europe. Is this something you are aware of?
Ahaha! There is a gender inequality in our federation: we have more women than men. I’m not sure that anyone knows the secret why but in my opinion, we do not make a distinction between genders. If the person is passionate, ready to work hard, learn and develop – they are a team member! We are a family. We even have a chat in Viber with the name “Family Federation”.
Would you say you have ever faced gender discrimination in your career thus far?
Luckily not, but I know that for some countries this is a historical problem. If European Athletics can help to develop and improve women’s leadership skills, we should do it. And we do. For example in December I will participate in a Women Leadership Lectures Course organised by European Athletics. It’s a great opportunity for personal and professional development.
How do you think we can encourage more women to take up leadership roles in sport? After all, this is still a largely male-oriented domain.
It must be a forward development and European Athletics is going in the right direction, I think. European Athletics is doing a lot to achieve a gender balance and we see full gender equality in all the commissions. Cherry Alexander was elected as a vice–president and there are five women on the Council.
However, I am sure we won’t have to discuss this topic in a few years’ time because European Athletics and World Athletics are really thinking about the gender balance and creating programmes for changing this situation.