Handball - Darleux: "I am fulfilled as a committed sportswoman" - Sport 365

Published on June 10, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. – updated on June 10, 2022 at 9:32 a.m.

Clement Pedron

Olympic champion with Les Bleues in Tokyo last year and vice-champion of France this season with Brest, Cléôpatre Darleux (32 years old, 187 caps) takes stock of her season as she begins her vacation. The goalkeeper, ambassador for Butagaz, the sponsor of the championship, also discusses questions around the future of the discipline, feminization and motherhood.

Cléopâtre Darleux, you ended your season with Brest with a lost Butagaz Energie League final against Metz, how do you feel?

It’s the beginning of the holidays so it’s going very well. I am very happy to have time for myself and for my family. It makes me feel good to cut because it was really a long season with the Tokyo Olympics last year. We haven’t had time to rest too much so far, I’m taking advantage of the moment. I’m a little disappointed with the last week with this double confrontation for the title of champion of France. I didn’t have the Covid, contrary to what people said, it was a false positive… I missed the first leg of the final (26-24 victory) and we didn’t manage to beat Metz on the return (25-22 defeat for a goal difference). We had a good season anyway.

What is your assessment of this year?

Sportingly, it was up and down. The Olympic year was long and difficult even though we won gold. On the return from Tokyo, we return to daily life and, sometimes, it is complicated to manage. I had a few difficult months but after that everything was back to normal. I rediscovered this thirst for competition, for winning. It was a season rich in learning because we were in difficulty. We had several ups and downs this year but we always fought. We showed great strength of character until the final of the championship.

Since last April, you have joined the ranks of Butagaz, title sponsor of the French women’s handball championship, as an ambassador. Why and what are your missions?

Butagaz has a commitment to the promotion of women’s handball. It’s a real visibility for the discipline and it needs it. When I was offered this role, I accepted because the brand has a good image in this sport. I find myself in the values ​​put forward by Butagaz. The brand is implementing various actions for handball and in particular #Auplusprèsdesclubs, an operation to help amateur clubs develop. It is important for me to feel close to amateur handball. I participate in projects with the brand, I come to the field, I meet amateur clubs, I give jerseys to young people. I really appreciate these exchanges, everyone has a smile and it’s a pleasure. I also wanted to promote women’s handball through the image I send back.

Darleux: “Handball must regain the momentum of 2017”

Handball needs its athletes to promote it?

Its very important. I think we need to have figures, models like what we can see in certain individual sports. Men’s handball has succeeded in bringing this sport to light thanks to its results for many years. With well-known players like Nikola Karabatic (also a member of the Butagaz team), it’s a win-win partnership. The “big ones” inspire the little ones. Women’s handball also needs a few headliners to grow, so that the discipline is better known and gets more media coverage.

Handball lost more than 200,000 licensees (549,295 against 334,588 licensees) between 2017 and 2021…

When I saw these figures, I was marked because I remember very well the year 2017 with the Men’s World Cup. The discipline had exploded, there had been a lot of communication around this event. We also got gold in the world championship, it was a winning combo. Today it is more complicated. Despite the fact that we had great results among women, the hand lost a lot of licensees. The Covid also had a terrible impact as for all other sports. It’s a long job and that’s why we have to take action with amateur clubs to regain this proximity, so that handball regains its 2017 momentum. We try to bring together the pros with the young people, the invite to our matches precisely to create a real relationship and restore a positive dynamic to the discipline.

What are the possible measures to revive the practice of handball?

There are several levers. First, it goes through the results of the French teams. Between now and two years from now, we will be talking a lot about sport with the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. This event will be a real locomotive for all disciplines in general, but especially for handball. In addition, there are chances of medals. Second, I think school is an important transition point. Everything that can be done with children, young people will be beneficial because it is there, the breeding ground. Finally, the results of French professional clubs, in the league and in the Champions League also play an important role. We also need greater visibility of men’s and women’s handball in the media.

As part of your activities with Butagaz, you come into contact with amateur clubs in Brittany. What do you observe?

In Brittany, there is a huge breeding ground. I am very surprised at the number of practitioners. The players are also more and more interested in coming to see our matches. Unlike their generation, mine never knew handball at a high level, we had no role models to look up to. Now young people are more motivated, watch handball on their screens, move around the halls. Money remains the sinews of war but we must not forget that amateur clubs also live thanks to the volunteers, the families who run these associations. Without them, clubs cannot survive.

A little over a year ago, handball became the first professional sport to sign a collective agreement with a part devoted to maternity. You are the mother of a little girl born in November 2019, was this progress important for you?

It’s a big step, firstly for all of French women’s sport. It will serve as an example for other professional disciplines. For me, this is the beginning of true professionalization. It’s important to have texts that defend us and help us on a daily basis. Until now, there was the same agreement for women and men, but we don’t have the same problems. We also have rights. Regarding maternity, we now have twelve months of salary maintenance. Before it was three… Now, the framework is established even if we are in perpetual search of what can still evolve. We managed to increase our paid leave to have the same duration as men (seven weeks). We realized that we didn’t have the same advantages as men, it’s crazy! It has also changed mentalities because motherhood is no longer a subject that is discussed after a sports career. We also encourage players to unionize to assert our rights.

Darleux: “We must prepare clubs and players for motherhood”

Is there still a taboo between professional sport and motherhood?

In handball, this is no longer the case because we talk about it a lot between us. It’s a “thing” that happens, we want to normalize motherhood. There are still things to do at this level because not everyone is ready yet. It is also necessary to prepare the clubs like the players for maternity. I think we can go even further in the work so that all parties win and experience this event as normally as possible. We players understand very well the impact of motherhood for clubs and the difficulty of finding a replacement(s).

With Butagaz, do you have any plans regarding maternity?

Currently not. We haven’t talked about it yet but it’s a subject that we will dig into.

Does your role as a committed sportswoman satisfy you?

Yes completely. When I was young, I only thought about handball. Today, and even though I’m a mom and my daily life is more shared with my family, I’m still just as competitive. I always want to give of myself to this sport which has allowed me to evolve as a person. I really like this role even if it takes time. I try to satisfy everyone even if the schedule is busy. I also lead other fights (for women’s rights, the preservation of biodiversity and ecology). Even if it requires organization, I am fulfilled as a committed sportswoman.

You have extended with Brest until 2024, what can we wish you for next season?

I want to live two good years to come, it will perhaps be my last two, we’ll see… I want to fulfill all the possible objectives in the French team and with Brest. Obviously, I want to win gold at the Olympic Games in Paris. With my club, I want to participate in the Final Four again and win it. And it will be perfect!

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