Sabine Hazboun, a former Palestinian Olympic swimmer and currently a student of the Master in Sport Management with a scholarship from The Cruyff Athlete Fund, is a real-life example for all those athletes who want to have a future in the sports industry
To have participated in five World Championships, two Asian Games, the Youth Olympic Games and the London 2012 Olympic Games, and also hold the national record in 50 and 100 meters butterfly, and in 50, 100, 200 and 800 meters freestyle at just 25 years old, is a commendable record for any athlete. To achieve all this despite being born in Bethlehem, witnessing the war as a child and growing up in Palestine during the Second Intifada, is something that is within the reach of very few. Sabine Hazboun is one of them.
At the age of 17 she had the opportunity to get out of “that big cage”, as she says, and fly to Barcelona to be admitted to the Sant Cugat CAR, the high-performance center that has seen her develop as the extraordinary athlete she is. International Olympic Solidarity recognized her talent and offered her the chance to get out of a country in constant conflict and continue dreaming big, something she learned from her parents, who guided her toward a sport career to carve out a better future. In Barcelona, she graduated in translation and interpretation from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. A native speaker of Arabic, she also speaks English, Spanish, Catalan, French and Italian. Sabine, fearless and always focused on new goals, dared to take on another challenge last year.
Sabine Hazboun responded to the Johan Cruyff Institute initiative and applied for a scholarship to study the Master in Sport Management through The Cruyff Athlete Fund campaign, the scholarship fund that Johan Cruyff Institute offers within its Corporate Social Responsibility program to put into practice the legacy of our founder, Johan Cruyff. Sabine hopes to graduate this summer and start a new chapter in her life at the age of 26.
We chatted with her about her journey here and her concerns during her pleasant visit to our facilities in Barcelona before the coronavirus pandemic. Judging by her open character and life experience, we bet that she is coping with it well, with resilience, one of her best virtues.
What memories do you have of your childhood?
I have a lot of memories from my childhood. I actually remember almost everything of my childhood, but mostly maybe friends and family, being home and a lot of memories about sport. My parents introduced me to a lot of sports, before swimming. I can´t say I had a normal childhood maybe, because from the age of six till I was 11, there was a war happening and the years 2000 and 2002 were the hardest years, I guess, when I was six and then eight. I lived the second Intifada and the Bethlehem Siege in Bethlehem. So, my memories are a mix of very happy moments with my family, my friends and a lot of sport but also fear, that mixes up everything.
“My memories from my childhood are a mix of very happy moments with my family, my friends and a lot of sport but also fear, that mixes up everything”
Your Palestinian background can’t have made things easy for you to become a professional athlete. What reasons led you to do it?
Here, I would say two words, resilience and ambition, in short. Of course my Palestinian background didn´t made it any easier, but there is also a positive part of it because, in my hometown in Bethlehem, I grew up without a lot of activities. And maybe living here in Europe and watching children, what they do, they have a lot of options, they want to have fun but sport is seen as something even harder or maybe as an activity. But there, if you want to do any activity, it involves sport, so we always used to hang out in the sports club. There was no, for example, cinema, or parks, so if you wanted to do anything outside of your house, and I always wanted to be out, it was sport. So that´s how I knew that this is what I wanted to do, no matter what.
How did you get the chance to obtain a place at the Sant Cugat High Performance Center?
It was a scholarship from the International Olympic Solidarity program. They went to Palestine, they came to Bethlehem and they studied the whole sports situation back in February 2011, and one of them was the head of international relations at the High Performance Center, Josep Escoda. They went there, they studied the situation and then they gave a scholarship for some athletes from Palestine to come here to Barcelona.
If you hadn’t come to Barcelona, what do you think your life would be like now?
My life would have been very different. The one thing that I know is that I would have still made it to the Olympics. Maybe I would have gone to another country, maybe learned another language. But one thing I know is maybe my view of the world would be different, because living in two worlds, in different cultures made me view the world from different angles and understand most points of views. It would have been very different I guess.
Were you competing during the war?
I was six to eleven. I started swimming at six, my mom was a swimmer, but I started competing when I was nine, so during the Bethlehem Siege for example I was eight. I wasn´t competing. I started competing at nine and I didn’t understand anything. There is a separation wall between Palestine and Israel, that limits our movement, so we don´t have much right to move out and to travel or to go to the other side. That made it hard, but I didn´t understand at the beginning, so I was living a normal life, like any child in my hometown but inside of a big cage, maybe.
“There is a separation wall between Palestine and Israel, that limits our movement, so we don´t have much right to move out and to travel or to go to the other side. That made it hard”
Is it a myth that professional athletes can’t combine sport and studies?
It is a very big myth, yes. I mean, first of all, you need sport to concentrate, to activate your mind, to study. And psychologically it also is very good when you combine both things, because let’s say, in sport you are doing a great job but you are failing your exams, or it happened once, for example, then you have something to motivate you. You don´t think a lot about your failure, that you fail an exam, or you lost the competition. So, if you don´t have one thing you have the other. And another thing is that you can also always organize your time. If you only have to study, you have all day to do your homework and you will end up not doing it, but if you know you have practice at 7pm, for example, you do your homework and then you go to practice, so it is very compatible, both things.
How has your journey been so far throughout the Master in Sport Management?
I’m loving it. My journey with the master’s has been very fast. But one thing I like is how the master´s degree gives us a lot of flexibility, when it comes to time and how we want to organize our time and it is up to us, it is up to me to make the most out of it.
“I love the master and my journey has been very fast; one thing I like is how the master´s degree gives us a lot of flexibility. It’s up to me to make the most out of it”
How important is education for athletes during their sport career? Do you think it’s possible to combine sport and studies and still perform at a very high level?
Very important. To all the athletes, I say, education is very important. Because we all know that one day will come when you won´t be doing sport. And especially for professional athletes who are doing sport or playing, competing with a salary, so as a job for them. Actually, one of my coaches at the High Performance Center always told me: “It´s true that you have the World Championship this year, but I want you to study because this is very important as well.” So, education is just as important.
What is your favorite aspect of sport management and why?
My favorite aspect is wherever there is room for innovation and improvement in sport management. So that would be events management, project management and especially strategic management, because whenever you want to make any change or any improvement in a sports facility or anything, you need to do a very long study, to see all the strategy or work on the strategy, and how you get to do all the internal or the external analysis. I think this is very important and I love this aspect, because this is where I can see that I can make a change in something in sport.
“To all the athletes, I say, education is very important. Because we all know that one day will come when you won´t be doing sport”
How do you think athletes should use their platform to better prepare for retirement?
Athletes have to work a lot on maybe the mental side of sport. I’d say that they have to do something else other than sport, and if they want to retire, they have to do it very gradually, because that is a big deal. Imagine an athlete that is training seven hours a day, and all of a sudden they are lost, especially because any professional athlete, or any athlete that has been to the Olympics, when they retire finds it very hard to see a goal as big as the Olympics, that for some people that does not exist. So, they need to do that thing away from sport before they retire, and they have to focus a lot and leave it gradually. But I would say, the coaches must know that before the athletes, and here I can also mention that the problem, the issue with most athletes, that we have, is identity. We define ourselves with that sport, of course, so when you are done, who are you? No one? No! You have to focus on something else and move on with life. Because sport is a big deal and a big part of your life, but you have to push through something else when you don´t want to compete anymore.
Did you prepare yourself for retirement?
No, I didn´t. I didn´t prepare myself for my retirement, and it was a disaster. Maybe I´ve come to terms now and I’ve learned what happened only now, maybe four years after. No, until now, it was not easy. That is why I say, athletes must prepare very gradually, because in my case it wasn´t gradual. It was in one week when I found out that I lost my scholarship, so that was a shock. And being away from home, and being alone as well, coming out of a high performance center to a city that is not even my hometown, it was hard.
What are your plans after graduation?
I definitely want to work with, maybe the FINA, the International Swimming Federation, or the IOC, or big organizations, wherever I can see that I can make an improvement in sport for younger athletes or any athlete that is still competing.
What are your thoughts on initiatives such as The Cruyff Athlete Fund?
I think it’s amazing, it´s great. I mean, without it, I wouldn’t have been here, I wouldn´t have learned everything I am learning know. I think it’s a very good opportunity for all athletes who want to pursue a career in sport, not only competing. My thoughts were always that I really want to work in sport, but as an athlete I had no idea of the business world, so I think this is the missing part for all athletes that we need. We know all the work that is done in sport, in the pool, on the playing field, but we don´t know how the sport business is.
“Initiatives such as The Cruyff Athlete Fund are amazing. I wouldn’t have been here; it’s a very good opportunity for all athletes who want to pursue a career in sport, not only competing”
And what would you say to other athletes that think it’s hard to study after a long time without doing it?
Maybe older athletes you mean? Well, I don´t think it’s hard to go back to studies. I mean, I tried it myself. I didn´t finish high school in Palestine, I finished eleventh grade, and when I came here, it was impossible to find a school in English so I took a whole year just to learn Spanish. So I didn´t study that year, only the language. And then in the following year, I studied again, math, science, history, everything, and I was worried, but, when you go back maybe the first months. But the clue for that is never leave books, always read. So, this is a thing, you need to activate your mind, and maybe even perform some activities, maybe movement, or anything that you need to focus, that helps the mind to stay young.
Header Image: Yuriy Ogarkov