Meet the Match
A Leader Within Government Seeks to Empower a Generation
Sports can run in a person’s blood. But, as in the case of Martina Bartolucci, it can also run in a name.
Named after Czech tennis icon Martina Navratilova, Martina played every sport she could as a child growing up in the Argentinian seaside city of Mar del Plata. But, she never settled for the tennis racquet. Instead, it was the field hockey stick that really caught her attention.
Martina grew up watching Argentina’s golden generation of field hockey players. The national team catapulted the sport’s popularity, winning medals in every Olympic Games since 2000 and ranked consistently among the best in the world. For Martina, she looked to follow in the footsteps of national hero Luciana Aymar, considered the best field hockey player of all time.
At the age of 18, Martina moved away to Buenos Aires, where she attended the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations. It was intimidating to move from a quiet resort city to a capital city of more than three million people. During this time, Martina found solace on the field hockey team, which she captained for three years. In 2010, she achieved the capstone of her career, named Sportswoman of the Year by the university.
“Hockey gave me values that will be with my entire life: solidarity with my teammates, respect for my opponents, obeying the rules,” Martina says. “It taught me the importance of teamwork. It’s one of my strongest qualities as a leader – wanting the team to grow together and not to run ahead of them for my own success.”
After graduation, Martina worked in a number of positions within the Ministry of Education. In 2014, she earned diplomas in politics and sports management from the National University of General San Martin. Afterward, she became an advisor for Carlos Mac Allister, a former professional soccer player who was serving as an Argentinian congressman in La Pampa. When Mac Allister was named secretary of sport, he brought Martina along as his chief of staff.
“I consider myself flexible, proactive, and willing to make a change – qualities every leader needs,” Martina says. “I always want to go further. I want to work for social change and I know I can be the one to do it.”
Martina now coordinates activities between the government, sports clubs, and national sports federations. She was recently responsible for organizing the farewell to Argentina’s Olympic athletes as they traveled for the Rio 2016 Games. On any given day, it is hard to know whether she’ll be at her desk or out in the field, because Martina is always on the move.
“I’m like the secretary’s right-hand woman,” Martina says. “Coordinating a team of older men with more experience, it is an everyday challenge and I always need to prove myself. But I am not afraid of challenges.”
With the exception of previous president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, few women are at the decision-making table in Argentina. Of 20 government ministers, only three are women; of 24 provincial governors, only five are women. Instead, women are pushed to pursue traditional careers in secretarial work, housecleaning, and nursing.
As a female leader in government, Martina feels responsible for changing expectations of women. She hopes to increase the number of Argentinean public schools that offer a range of sports options for girls. Martina envisions organizing leadership programs with athletes like Aymar leading courses and sharing their experiences as women in sports.
“We all have certain responsibilities toward society,” Martina says. “Working in government gives me even more, because we’re there to help people. Like my mother was my example, the best way to lead other women is to be an example. Participating in this program is the first step to empowering myself and making a difference.”
Guiding Martina on this journey is one of the United States’ most prominent female sports leaders: Val Ackerman, commissioner for the Big East Conference. With a desire to learn more about how she can influence decision-makers to invest in women’s sport, Martina will benefit from Val’s leadership experience working with major sports organizations like the NCAA, USA Basketball, and NBA/WNBA. Ann Wells Crandall, chief marketing officer for the Big East, complements the mentorship team and will be able to help Martina market her message and improve her communication skills as she negotiates with prominent leaders. Martina’s dreams for girls and women in Argentina can become a reality with the support that she’ll receive from proven mentors like Val and Ann.