Internet is a weird place. I was laying on the couch with my wife. Netflix and chill. All of a sudden I get three messages on my messenger. Quote of the first message:”Being that you are involved with the water polo media, have you heard the biggest comedy in our sports history?”. In the second message he explained me in short paragraphs everything that has happened to him and his team as they were trying to qualify for the Olympic games. Third message:”Sorry if I am bothering you, but it is always easier when you share your suffering with someone, even if you don’t know that someone personally.”
… and now I’m reading this. What to say. How the heck should I respond right now? Why would I even respond him? Milorad Aleksić. Coach of the Women’s National Water Polo team of Uzbekistan. Duuude. What does this guy now want. I mean. I see that he is in some sorts of pain. Why should I be able to do anything about it? We all have our own pains in our lives. Why should I invest my time in his pain? It wasn’t a question of moral, but of principle. The internet is a hot spot for people who love to vent their frustrations. Why should I mess around with this stuff?
I have enough of my own frustrations. I don’t need anybody elses. That being said I must admit that in the end I let my guard down. I answered to him and we talked a bit. I told him that I would talk with the president of Danče, Andrija Martić, and that I would be contacting Mr.Aleksić later. Over a secured lined I spoke with the president Martić. The information we exchanged is going to remain closed off from the public. That same night I have again contacted Mr.Aleksić in Uzbekistan. We agreed on doing an interview, but for now let us start in a different way. I asked him to sit behind a Word program and write down everything he feels right now about his situation. I asked him to focus only on this feeling and write down everything what brought him to a such a state that he sends me a message. We will continue and build our interview around that and then maybe add few stuff as we see fit. Mr. Aleksić replayed to me that he will write it the next day, because of the time difference in Uzbekistan is now midnight and he has a training to do early in the morning. We said our goodbyes. I asked my wife what did I missed on a show which I don’t know the name of, nor do I care to know, and my night moved on. Some 30 minutes later I get a message from Mr. Aleksić telling me that after our conversation he couldn’t sleep and that he wrote down something. He mailed it to me. I said to him that I will read it now, and that I will compose some sort of an interview for him sometime tomorrow. And goodbyes were again spoken amongst us… Once I read what he had to write I understood his pain.
It was not only his pain. As weird as it sounds but through his words you could hear a lot of angry people. That was the pain of his whole team as well as himself. A team who went through the hell and back to do their best once they try to achieve their dreams and qualify for the Olympic Games. In the end they didn’t even get the chance to try. For few days I was trying to build an interview around the stuff that Mr. Aleksić sent me. Trying to separate his words into few segments felt sometimes like taming a animal, so I have decided not to do anything and just leave everything as it is. Even this intro which I wrote is annoying me a bit, I would love to step down on this one and give the full spotlight on Mr.Aleksić and his girls, but I have to write something. This is not a story about Mr. Aleksić, but this is a story about that what has happened to his girls. His words I give them exactly as he wrote them. For the purposes of this english version we have translated it accordingly to that what the original has portrayed. Maybe these girls will not even get the chance to qualify for the following Olympic Games, but at least someone will know about the injustice they faced and pain they have experienced. Even we from Danče send our love and support for the Women’s National Water Polo team of Uzbekistan. I hit the follow button on Instagram and from now on I will follow you and cheer for you. I will enjoy in every victory you are yet to have. I do hope that this experience will not break you. Don’t let the world kill the dreamer in you. Please don’t stop dreaming just because this time world was unfair towards you. Don’t let yourself that this experience makes you love life, sports or your dreams anything less. From now on by not giving up is how you are going to be winners. From now on your future victories mean something to me too. From now on for me your every victory is a victory of persistence, resilience and faith. No matter what the faith it is.
For his bravery and his honesty I would like to congratulate and thank to Mr. Aleksić. When I think about it now. Internet isn’t always such a weird place, sometimes it is actually a wonderful place. Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to let your guard down here and there.
I don’t want to talk a lot about me because I am pretty much irrelevant in this whole story. My name is Milorad Aleksić. I come from a little town in the north of Serbia called Kikinda. I have been involved with sports my whole life. Starting as a swimmer, water polo player, coach, sports delegate and now coach of the women’s national team of Uzbekistan. To many, at the first sight, sounds kinda funny. Uzbekistan. Islamic country. And then water polo, and then even women’s water polo! To be honest, I too found it a bit funny as I was supposed to start working with them at one water polo camp that my friend and me run. The night before their arrival I did not sleep. I was wondering where is this Uzbekistan country and what have I gotten myself into?! When the 26.4.2019 came, I was explained that the girls are in preparations for an Olympic qualification tournament which is taking place in February of 2020. They came to Kikinda after they have already spent 3 months training in Russia. There they had usually 3 and not so rarely even 4 practices a day. After only 3 days we went to play a tournament in Belgrade where I got my first opportunity to see what I truly have at my disposal and what changes we need to start making. Our first game we lost against Olympiacos and immediately there I noticed an enormous problem. We had 23 exclusions and barely finished the game with 6 players. Most of the exclusion were due to our pulling of our opponents by their swimsuit. After the game we talked about it for 10 minutes and in the next 10 months we have never even touched this topic. After that talk we won the rest of our games easily. Then and there I told them that if they listen to me and if they train hard that we have very big chances to clean the table with some of the greats.
These girls, all aged between 14 and 20 years, have after six months of everyday training, with all the blood, sweat and tears that come with it, went home for the first time. And by home I mean they went to a hotel in Tashkent (city in Uzbekistan). Do you know when would I allow something like that to my own 14 year old child? Never! During these six months we went through a roller-coaster of everything. From girls wanting to quit to emotional and physical breakdowns, but they stayed persistent and resilient because in our head existed only one thing… Tokio and every athletes dream, the Olympics.
When I was offered do coach this team one of the expectations was to qualify for the Olympics.
I think it´s unrealistic to ask from someone to guaranty you such a thing, because exactly that is charm of sport, one can never know.
My surrounding advised me to take the job, get the money and after the qualification separation, because we are not going to qualify.
But that’s not me. If I decide to do something, I try to do it fully and wholeheartedly.
Sorry if I went all over the place, but a lot has happened in the last 10 months.
I could write a novel, if I knew how.
The only ones I promised something were those girls. I promised them that I will always be on their side and that I will try and help them as much as I can.
Here are some facts:
These girls are not going to school for a year now. They don’t have any social life. No summer holidays. No winter holidays. They don’t have any boyfriends, nor the opportunity to meet one. Getting up at 7 am. Sleep at 10 pm. For their “girl days” they get sparred only the FIRST day (one day). They don’t have the right to be sad, disappointed, in a bad mood… My god they are in average 17 years old. I wanna cry as I’m writing you all of this.
They lived for that tournament because if they were able to qualify they would have eventually went to their homes, to their schools, to their streets, to their towns where they would be hailed as queens. For almost a year they are breaking down from all the work and from wanting to go back to their homes and then someone decides that they don’t even get an opportunity to try and qualify… they themselves probably don’t fully believe that they could really qualify, but they would want to try so badly…
Once the choice was made, they have basically wasted a year of their childhood, not life, childhood… and me… I lost one year in a childhood of my own kids, and for that, somebody is gonna get it!
Every day I was telling my girls that we are getting better and better and that soon teams will start to fear us the same way we used to fear them.
Here is one anecdote. We went to Athens to do some training and we also planed to have sparring sessions with some of the local clubs. In the morning we would train alone, and against the Greeks in the evening. And immediately a problem. Greek championship is underway, a lot of clubs, not enough pool time and space for us. Nobody wants to train with Uzbekistan. Why would anybody want to when the Greeks women water polo belongs to very top, and they don’t even know where Uzbekistan is. Finally one club from the Greek second league accepts to play with us and had its hands full…they scored around 3 goals for a hour and a half of playing. Then two days later, with a club from the first league, it was some 10 goals difference for us… fifth day the other clubs were calling us to play with them… they said that the Serb pulled of a miracle… not the Serb, I don’t play… they pulled of a miracle because they were able to learn a lot in the first 3 months and because they wanted to at least try to qualify for the Olympic games. We played with a team from Spain which participates in the Champions League and currently they are in the top of the Spanish La Liga, them too we have beaten…
We are also playing the Russian Championship where were not so liked all the time. We are traveling from +30 to -30, changing the time zones every month and we don’t know what day it is, nor what is the time, believe you me.
The whole story comes down to that everybody should at least get the opportunity and not underestimate anybody.
People, if the countries so small don’t start to play water polo, then our sport will be shut down, but for that somebody obviously doesn’t give a damn…
This isn’t even a tenth of the stuff that happened to us…
And then the worse for the last, cold shower… tournament has been canceled and it is being decided in the silence, in the dark, who is going to the Olympics, and someones dreams are being crushed so casually and so non nonchalantly…because that’s the most painless way… well it isn’t! We will still fight that all of our hard work was not for a lost cause and that we let to participate at the Games those who earn it and later who ever wins, wins.
So much for now. If it is a little bit blurry or illiterate don’t mind, in the end I am just one P.E. Professor and a water polo coach.
If you still need anything I’m here.
This is an add on to the english version of this article. Mr.Aleksić and me are the ones speaking but this article is not about us. It is about his girls, and if I hear one more time that somebody disrespected, or behave badly towards these girls… This person has a problem with me, straight up. For the rest of you athletes to got the opportunities to showcase your talent and maybe go all the way and win the Olympics never forget that you should always be humble, grateful and aware that there are athletes out there like these brave girls who need the champions of their respected sports to share their limelight with them too. So that we all can shine.
These are the names of the Uzbekistanii Queens that I hope we will hear a lot from in the years to come: