Vanja Udovičić is a Serbian politician and former professional water polo player.
During an illustrious professional water polo career that spanned 15 seasons, Udovičić played for Partizan Belgrade, Jadran Herceg Novi, Posillipo Naples, Pro Recco, Mladost Zagreb and Radnički Kragujevac. His most notable achievements at the club level are winning the LEN Euroleague twice with Pro Recco. The first one in 2008 followed by another one in 2010, the final in which he scored 4 goals for his team bringing the title back to Pro Recco with his fellow countryman Filip Filipović contributing 2 goals.
With the Serbian national team, his most notable achievements are European gold for juniors in 2000, the gold medals from the World Championship in 2005 and 2009, European gold in 2003, 2006, and 2012, and Olympic silver in 2004 and bronze in 2008 and 2012.
From 2013 he serves as the Minister of Youth and Sports in the Government of Serbia. In this interview, Udovičić shares his point of view on his role, pandemic, youth and improvement in sports.
What does the position of 'Secretary of Youth and Sport' mean to you regarding entering or leaving your comfort zone?
In sport, whether you’re on the field or a secretary, a comfort zone doesn’t exist, since you’re always trying as hard as you can to play the game well and win. You’re trying to be the best and to break your records daily. Great results are a good motivator to continue with being responsible, persistent and stubborn when it comes to training. You have to work a lot, to prove that you’re better, and only then the results will be on your side. That’s how sports function, but also my current job. The position of the Secretary of Youth and Sport is a privilege, a challenge and a huge responsibility. For me, it’s not just a job, it’s a chance to contribute to sports and to make sure that our sportsmen have nothing but the best training conditions. Whether you’re a sportsman or a secretary, a lot of dedication is a must-have, and that is only possible if sports are your love and lifestyle.
You are someone who, we can probably assume, is used to teamwork. In 2010 you won the title of the best water polo player in the world, many teams and your successes have been written in the history of sport... Do you think that these victories prepared you for the position of the Secretary of Youth and Sport?
Teamwork is a requirement when it comes to sports and it is one of the most important lessons you can learn while practicing sports. The career of a top athlete has helped me realize that without a strong team there is no strong individual. No victory, nor defeat have a meaning if you don’t have someone to share them with. That is my way of thinking and acting. The Secretary of Youth and Sport, which I am the head of, is based on teamwork. Proof that this is the best way to reach success is that the team of Serbia has won 265% more medals in the period from 2013. Record results in every aspects of sports, not only medals won, are a result of the sports team of Serbia and it is my pride to be the secretary under whom teams are breaking their records and setting new boundaries for Serbian sports.
Which infrastructural venture have you been especially pleased with so far?
It is difficult to single out one project. Investments in sports infrastructure have never been bigger. The construction of a Multifunctional Hall - a national training centre for six sports is certainly a project of great importance. However, other infrastructural projects such as the reconstruction of the Youth Sports Center Karatas, construction of the Athletics Hall in Belgrade, a magnificent athletics stadium in Novi Pazar and numerous other projects, are no less important. Only through the project "IPA 2015", with a total worth of 4.5 million euros, we have reconstructed and completed works on a total of 24 sports facilities in 22 cities and municipalities. Also, we have built and renovated 27 children's playgrounds throughout Serbia. The goal is for every city and every municipality to have as much space for sports and recreation as possible so as many people as possible, especially children, can engage in physical activities, free of charge.
Are we in the situation to plan or even talk about sports events in Serbia for the next year?
We are in the same positions as the whole world. Everything is still uncertain. We can’t plan as we are used to in sports, but we are not looking for an alibi in that, we will be ready. We have organized a large number of international sports competitions in Serbia in the previous period and proved to be an excellent host. What is important is that we always justify the trust of international sports organizations that have recognized the willingness of the state to support such great events. When the conditions are met for us to organize sports competitions again we will have additional motivation to surpass ourselves and present Serbia under a brighter light.
Did your view on sports in Serbia evolve since you were a water polo player?
It can never be the same point of view, but the experience I have gained as an athlete is priceless and it helps me in making better decisions today. From my experience, I know the importance for athletes not to have any outside pressure or worries, so that they can focus on the competitions and give their best on the field.
Considering that the ultimate goal is to provide a future perspective for young people in Serbia, how do you prioritize the critical areas?
Young people should be given unreserved support, motivation and opportunity. For years, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has been working systematically on the development, promotion and implementation of youth policies to improve the quality of life for young people. We work hard so that young people can take an active part in society. The young mind is fresher and more creative, that is why young people should be allowed to share their ideas. This is only possible if we include them in all spheres of social life and allow them to put their ideas into action. Young people need to be given choices and support.
Considering the current pandemic, do you manage to be optimistic regarding all the future plans?
I never gave up, nor did I surrender. While I was an athlete I fought till the end of the match. So I'll approach challenges with the same mindset, this is an obstacle that all humanity is facing. I never looked for an alibi, the pandemic can only delay plans, but that certainly doesn’t mean they'll not be realized.
Is the 'Fund for Young Talents of the Republic of Serbia' continuing its course in giving scholarships to the best students?
Of course, we continue to reward the best college and high school students in Serbia. We motivate them to progress, even more, improve and achieve better results. The 'Fund for Young Talents of the Republic of Serbia' supports annually over 3,400 of the best high school and college students. From 2014 until today, the total number of scholarships for studies in Serbia has increased from 1,000 to 1,410, and the number of scholarships from 250,000 dinars to 300,000 dinars. The role of young people is crucial in building future societies, and that is why it is very important to invest in their knowledge and education. With the support of the state, the best students have a sure path to achieving their ambitions and contribute to the further progress of Serbia.