On behalf of the President of the Republic of France, the Ambassador of France to Serbia, Pierre Koshar, awarded Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković with the National Order of Merit, in the rank of knight.
In his speech, Ambassador Pierre Koshar emphasized the merits of Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković, who showed perseverance and courage in the most difficult moments, as well as the spirit of initiative and dedication, through supporting young athletes in their careers and professional adjustments. He also underlined that from now on she is the ambassador of French-Serbian friendship forged in recent years in the field of sports, especially basketball.
The life of Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković, a member of the national basketball team, changed when, at the age of 19, she had a severe traffic accident on her way to the Hungarian club Gyor, for which she started playing, starting a promising international career. Her left leg was amputated. She was then contacted by the French Basketball Federation, supporting her to receive a custom prosthesis in France and to begin rehabilitation in Paris.
Already in 2014, Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković had the ball in her hands again and tried the impossible: to return to the court as a professional basketball player and compete with other players, which she succeeded a year later with the help of the coach of the women’s team of Crvena Zvezda Basketball Club. She becomes the first basketball player in the world with a prosthesis to play in such an environment.
After ending her sports career in 2016, Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković got involved in the Basketball Federation of Serbia, returned to her studies and founded the association “Nataša Kovačević Foundation”, which supports young athletes with difficulties, promotes their rights, as well as the rights of women in sports, or provides assistance to athletes who decided to change careers.
Still maintaining strong ties with France and the French Federation of Basketball, Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković told her personal story through the prism of French-Serbian ties in the field of sports. A few months ago, she premiered her documentary film “Leap”, which follows her story and this collaboration.
In 2018, Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković also initiated the erection of a monument in Kalemegdan Park to Henry Hell, a player of the French national basketball team after the Second World War who then became the coach of the first Yugoslav national team in the period 1948-1950, crowned world champion.
In her speech, Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković said that she was honored to receive this decoration, which embodies the ties that unite France and Serbia. Remembering the rehabilitation in Paris, the city she loves, she expressed her deep gratitude to the president of the French Federation of Basketball, whose name is Jean-Pierre Siutat, as well as to friends and family who were present in the hall, without whom her journey would not have been the same. On the occasion of world crises, Nataša Kovačević-Stojaković reminded that solidarity, compassion and friendship represent the greatest values for her.
The Order of Merit is, along with the Legion of Honor, one of the two French national orders established in 1963 by Charles De Gaulle.
(Taken from the website of the Embassy of France in Belgrade)