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A Small Part of Something Bigger

Getting results in football beyond 90 minutes

By Sabrina Buljubašić — FK Sarajevo CEO

Football engenders self-discipline, fair play, competitive spirit, and the idea of working within a set of rules. In many senses, football is as important for society as formal education is.

I am fortunate enough to have experienced two different worlds; being born in, and now back living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as having grown up and studied in the United States. I am grateful that I had so many opportunities when I was younger, that enabled me to attend college, and to play football.

I could have stayed in the USA and progress further as a professional football player; some people might say that I probably should have done so. I am sure that my family, my parents, would have loved for me to stay with them in Portland. However, something kept pushing me in another direction. I cannot say exactly what it was; maybe it is something that I don’t still understand, but what I did know was the I would have to go and tackle the more difficult world, especially in terms of football.

I knew I had talent, but I was not the only one. It made me think that if some of the girls back home, that had the same talent, maybe even more, had the same opportunities as me, they could progress so much further.

I disliked the fact that things were not equal: What if my parents had not moved to the USA? Would I have just been another number; someone with talent, but with no chance to show it? Someone who was told that football was not for them, and who “should stick to doing other things”? Someone who was insulted for apparently not understanding the offside rule?’ I guess I didn’t want anyone to feel like an outsider.

I left the USA at 19 and decided that I would return to Bosnia and Herzegovina. My family stayed in the USA, but I came back to Bosnia and Herzegovina on my own. I enjoyed every aspect of playing football and, once I returned to my hometown Tuzla, I missed having this opportunity. Going back was difficult, but I was always known for doing things the hard way or taking on challenges.

I started a football club; the first women’s club in my hometown Tuzla, and was effectively running the club, whilst still playing. Even though the job was tough, nothing could stop me from playing and training. Unfortunately, my current role doesn’t enable me to do this anymore, but I do still get myself involved in kicking a ball around once in a while.

In administrating a football club, I was exposed to a number of issues that just didn’t sit right. Clubs and players would routinely breach regulations, many times without even realising it. Furthermore, clubs and players were also not aware of other rules and regulations that impacted them. Recognising the injustice of this, and having always been proud of standing up for myself and others, my natural inclination towards law became clear to me. I pursued a Master’s degree in International Sports Law, and continued to support and develop opportunities for girls, and boys, to play football in a safe environment.

I continued pursuing voluntary work after graduating, and ironically enough, I was involved with streetfootballworld several years back, the organisation which launched Common Goal in 2017. It was beautiful to see how football could be a global unifier; girls and boys, all different ages, ethnicities, social and economic backgrounds, all enjoying the game together. Moreover, these people weren’t just enjoying the game, but also being united as one team through it.

I saw the power of football. For a moment, it could bring people together. Through hard times, through social difficulties, through poverty, football could bring a moment of joy, as well as empower people. I wanted nothing more than to be a small part of something bigger, that provides more moments like this to people around the world.

In 2016, I was appointed the CEO of FK Sarajevo. The first female in the history of the club, as well as the youngest person ever to take over one of the biggest clubs in the CEE region. Most fans look at the results of the team on the weekend, and from season to season, and this is their connection to the club. The club consumes their minds all day, but the only actual engagement is during the match experience. I saw that FK Sarajevo has so much more potential to be a club that does things differently, opens doors, and drives social change. I was given an opportunity by Tan Sri Vincent, and I was supported by Ken Choo when I took on the role, and now it is my turn to give back, and inspire others to give back. As we mark the 140th city derby (FK Sarajevo vs Zeljeznicar) and I decided that the whole week, the match, and match sponsor be dedicated to humanitarian aid and community organisations for children. Something like this has never been done before, dedicating the full week to community outreach prior to a derby or big match.

There can be nothing better for me than joining Common Goal. As the first female CEO of a football club to join Common Goal, I hope that my involvement can be a tiny part of a larger movement to empower others; not only girls, but anyone who may not have the same doors open for them, for them to realise that football is more powerful than what we simply see on television. It unites people, it educates people, it equips them with skills. Football is more important than people realise, and it has the potential to grow even more.

I hope that with Common Goal we can break down more barriers, open more doors, and provide support to more people around the world. Common Goal saw that in some circumstances, there just wasn’t a platform. So they went and made one themselves.

Sabrina Buljubašić is a retired football player, an international lawyer and the CEO of FK Sarajevo. She recently became the first female CEO of a football club to join Common Goal as a Supporter.