There’s a calm self-assurance to Lucy Zelic. It’s likely been cultivated through her years of being in front of the camera as a presenter on SBS, notably hosting both the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups. Sport is in her blood – born into a traditional Croatian family, she was raised playing and watching football, and her two older brothers went on to play professionally. But as a woman, she tells us, “I’ve copped a hell of a lot over the years”...
There was the bizarre ‘scandal’, for example, over her correctly pronouncing players names during the 2018 World Cup. “While it was upsetting at first, I’ve realised that staying true to myself is the only way I can handle it because I’d rather go to sleep at night believing in the woman I am, rather than pretending to be someone that I am not.”
Since becoming a mother to one-year-old daughter Mila, though, the unshakeable Zelic has discovered a new vulnerability within herself. Some of it is born from the struggle most working mothers grapple with – “there are still times where I get in the car and cry all the way to work”, she says, “but I now recognise that I am doing this for my daughter and her future.” Even since the pandemic hit and she’s been largely working from home, the guilt is inescapable. “I can be stationed in one room, interviewing the coach of the Australian men’s national team while Mila is yelling ‘mama!’ at the top of her lungs just a few rooms away…my mum guilt is through the roof.”
But there’s a more insidious, brutal side to motherhood in the public eye. While Zelic is protective of her daughter and doesn’t share images of her face, a picture of Mila on social media attracted a comment that enraged her: ‘Burn, you fucking witch, and your child too.’ “Reading that particular comment triggered such an irrepressible rage in me”, she tells us. But while many may have shut down or retreated, Zelic is not one to be easily intimidated. She took action, launching the #BeAccountable movement on social media to call for more responsibility and accountability for online bullying and abuse. She’s currently campaigning for Members of Parliament to make changes around online security. “When I looked at the escalating statistics for suicide amongst young children”, she explains, “and that they were linked to social media use, it terrified me. I don’t want social media to potentially have that type of impact on my child or anyone else’s.”
If there’s one thing Zelic knows how to do, it’s get the job done. She was still commuting between Sydney and the Central Coast while heavily pregnant and coming off-air at 3:30 in the morning. And while she’s not afraid of hard work, her priorities are clear: “nothing outside our little bubble of three really matters anymore and it’s such a liberating and heartwarming feeling.”
And her new-found vulnerability may just be her greatest superpower. When we ask Zelic how motherhood has changed her, she captures it perfectly. “You’re going to be vulnerable”, she says, “but it’s such a beautiful thing. I cry at just about everything now, and feel things much more deeply than I ever did before – it’s been a terrifying but magical side effect.”
We spoke to this dynamic mother about her childhood, facing discrimination, the joy of breastfeeding, and the pressure she puts on herself…