- Sophia Goethals, SWB
Coach Spotlight: SWB Oakland’s Hajar Abulfazl
Soccer Without Borders (SWB) is thrilled to welcome Beyond Sport award-winner Dr. Hajar Abulfazl as the newest staff team member at our SWB Oakland hub. Joining SWB as Program Coordinator, Hajar comes to us as the former Co-captain of the Afghanistan Women’s National Team and a former delegate to the United Nations Youth Assembly. Hajar is a strident activist for girls and women’s rights in Afghanistan including her work as an advocate for gender equity in soccer.
As we honor International Women’s Day throughout the month of March, we are excited to welcome Hajar to the team and to celebrate her journey — past, present and future. Continue reading to learn Hajar’s reflections on what brought her to SWB and which aspects of her new role excite her most:
What is your “why” for working at SWB?
I challenged the taboo of women playing football and advocated for women's rights and empowerment through health and sport as a member of the first generation of national football team players in Afghanistan. Playing soccer for many years has changed my life and made me a positive person; now, I’m excited to join Soccer Without Borders, a team in which I feel at home and can be myself. Through SWB, I am excited to share my journey with more people, teach the next generation, and show everyone what soccer is all about.
I had known about the Soccer Without Borders mission and the team since 2016 when they formed a partnership with the players and coaches of the Afghanistan Women's National Soccer Team. I realized my whole life's mission was the same as the SWB mission; to use soccer to make a positive difference, promote empowerment, change lives, and bring communities together.
What has been your journey in soccer so far?
I have personally taken a journey to become a soccer leader in my country, Afghanistan, where girls are traditionally not allowed to leave the house, let alone play soccer internationally. It has taken me a lot of effort to get where I am today, and I have fought hard to make soccer an acceptable sport for girls, along with my sisters, parents, relatives, teachers, and community. My goal has always been to continue working for the team of girls who loved soccer but couldn't because of their families, society, and a huge obstacle, the Taliban.
What mantra speaks to you the most, and why?
We had a coach foundation training at the beginning of my work at SWB, and during it we talked about mantras. "Get Them to the Field" is my favorite, and I could say it has the most meaning for me. I believe the process of getting the girls on the field is the longest and the most challenging. Bringing girls onto the field is a long process and it takes a lot of good work to encourage them, talk with their parents, show a lot of examples, and meet them many, many times. As soon as they come to the field, they will find a way to continue, and you will see that the majority of them will stay and fight against any challenge to stay and get better.
What about getting girls into the game is meaningful to you?
Girls should be in the game because we want them to be powerful, capable, and bold. Soccer can give you the skills to be powerful by using your own talents — your mind and body — to empower yourself to be better. Many girls are expected to stay in their homes, but soccer is a great way to bring girls out of their homes and show them a bigger world of opportunity. For me, because of soccer, I have received an education and I have traveled all over the world. I have been able to understand who I am and how to achieve my dreams. Now I want to give this back to girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
What has been your favorite part of working in SWB girls’ programming so far?
I love all parts of SWB, but specifically girls’ programming because in any circle or game or moment, I feel connected to my work back in Afghanistan. I feel that I’ve built my life for this job, to bring girls to the field, train them, to let them tell their stories, and find themselves. I am sure so many girls have talents, but they are shy, and at SWB we bring those girls to the field. Inviting them to the field provides them positive knowledge and experiences, and that’s my favorite part.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
Right now, Afghanistan is not being run by the Afghan government, and this has meant that for years girls cannot go to school, they cannot play sports, everything is shut down for women. You cannot travel by yourself or engage in community activities. I want to use my platform to say “do not leave Afghan women alone” — we need support and help because we have so much hope, and the girls and women in Afghanistan matter, and their futures matter.