Water polo team from nothing — target: Olympics
A former American Marine built a national team in six years in Afghanistan, where the word „waterpolo” was unknown. Now he wants to bring his team to a Western country and he would love to cooperate with Hungarians in the Afghan water polo programme.
I’VE ALREADY TOLD THE STORY of an American Marine, who taught „swimming football” to Afghan soldiers in 2008. Jeremy Piasecki, the water polo coach — who works now in Italy –, a former Marine was in Hungary in the beginning of the year so I could speak with him. He told me that when he was in Afghanistan, he found a pool on the Pul-e-Charkhi base. There he found many inappropriate things for a pool: wood, junk, dead animals. He kept asking around what the base used the pool for and if they filled the pool with water sometimes. The Afghan garrison commander told him they used the pool as a reservoir because of water shortages. Then Piasecki asked: „Can I fill the pool with water so I can teach your soldiers how to swim and play a game called waterpolo?” And when he said this, the linguist said, he can’t translate that, because there is no translation for water polo. Piasecki said: „It’s like hand soccer in the water”.
The Afghans didn’t get it but they cleaned the pool and filled it up with water in the summer of 2008. Then the Marine could start coaching the Afghan soldiers. After this, the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee heard about what he was doing and asked him to start a national water polo programme. In the late summer of 2008 Piasecki organized the first tryouts for the national team. „Hundreds and hundreds of people came, but there were only about fifty brave Afghans all over the country to tryout”, Piasecki said. The national team was established and they were playing in bicycle shorts in a pool which was placed in downtown Kabul.
There were not too many pools in the country — just 12–13 — when Piasecki started the water polo programme. „That was the biggest issue”, to find a pool which was not in a military base and which was eligible for a good price, the former Marine said. It was also hard, that many players were soldiers who could be sent for a mission to the other side of the country, so the team was always changing. Now the aim is to bring the team — which has only one player who was there at the start of the programme in 2008 — outside Afghanistan. In 2011 they had a chance to do so, but the American government didn’t give visa for the players.
„You know, I am an American, I understand. Afghan males between the age of 16 and 28… If they leave their home country for a Western world country — say Hungary or the US –, they will say: »Oh, there are lot of opportunities!«, and they won’t want to go back to Afghanistan. Because there is a war, it is hard to find a job, there are lots of problems. Most European countries are concerned about that too.” /Jeremy Piasecki/
He wants to bring the team to the West in summer, but before that he sends two coaches to Afghanistan in the middle of January. After that, in the end of the month, he also wants to travel there. In the autumn he wants to go there with one or two coaches to help the team.
„Every time when we send coaches to Afghanistan, they are in a higher level, when we leave them — so we hope every time. The more frequent we can do this, the higher level we will get them to be.” /Jeremy Piasecki/
THE FORMER MARINE SAID, he would love to cooperate with the Hungarian Olympic Committee. When he did research on training methods, he has seen some good things in the Hungarian programme. Piasecki said: „Hungarian water polo since the inception of water polo has… not been great, that’s the wrong word to use.” But when I asked him which country is the best in waterpolo nowadays, he was not sure, because it is always changing. For example, there were no medalists in the 2012 Olympics from the final of the 2008 Olympics (In that final, Hungary has beaten the US. The score was 14–10 — the editor). „So many teams to offer, it’s just great watching every single final”, said Mr. Piasecki, who was not with the invited Afghan team in Iran, on the Asian Water Polo Club Championship. He added:
„Getting visas for Americans to Iran is difficult. We’ve tried it through the Afghanistan National Olympic Comittee, but it was just not possible. Maybe in the future, because sports are international, peaceful.”
Piasecki is satisfied with the team — even though the team has lost a match against an Iranian club, the score was 21–0. „I think it was a great opportunity, the group that most benefited were the players who played in the championship. They get the opportunity to play in an international competition — regardless of the score”, he said. The former Marine added: „Not all the same players are in that club and in the national team, so it wasn’t the complete national team out there”. The team, that has a dream: to play in the Olympics. „The goal of us building this programme is to create heroes for this country and to follow the dream. It’s to try to get the olympics”, Piasecki said.
But the former Marine thinks that there are so many big teams in the world and in Asia — for example Iran, China, Japan or Kazakhstan. These countries have been training water polo for years and years — Afghanistan has it’s water polo programme for just six years. They have better infrastructural and financial background than the Afghans.
„The reality is: they will not make the olympics. Will they have the olympic spirit? Will they have those dreams? Yes, and that’s what we are focusing on. If you don’t make a goal, you never going to get there. We are taking steps towards that goal.” /Jeremy Piasecki/
The head coach of the Afghan national team also have to surmount the language problems. When he was first assigned in Afghanistan, he was with a linguist who helped him, and a couple of Afghan soldiers knew some words in English. But now, he is communicating with hand gestures or he shows the players how to do the exercise. Piasecki added: „I also coached in Germany and I was not fluent in German, and now I am working with Italians. It’s not about »Oh, how would I communicate with them«. Sometimes I can teach them 80%, but sometimes that 20% could be taught also if I would have a linguist. But normally we are able to communicate fully. Sport is great because anytime you can bring together any people and they will speak a common language.”
I WAS ALSO CURIOUS HOW President Obama formally declaring the end of the war in the country will affect water polo. Well, Piasecki thinks that it will have little effect, because they are not in connection with the US or Afghan government. He said the taxes will increase and this can cause some pool closings. The things will be a little more difficult. „For example, we will take additional precautions for the security of the two coaches who are going to down there. We want to make sure that our coaches are safe.” Otherwise, the programme is financed by civils, anonymous supporters, who are donating and buying T-shirts via the official website of the Afghanistan National Team. „We don’t know who they are, but we appreciate the behaviour of the many unknown supporter of the programme”, Piasecki said. After these, he admitted that her wife is also an active supporter of the Aghan water polo. She is the president of the board of directors for four years now. He ended our interview with these words:
„After our trip to Afghanistan, she will be replaced, because she was supposed to be off the board two years ago, but we were so focused to provide support for the programme and get coaches there, we have forgotten (laughs). She has been brave, she is so supportive, she has done more than I can ever ask. I truly appreciate this.” /Jeremy Piasecki/
The article was originally published in the Hungarian news site, VS.hu. Thanks for helping me: Bence Magos.