Despite setbacks, Marine's drive to form Afghan water polo team continues

American determined to form water polo team in Afghanistan

The U.S. combat role in Afghanistan may be finished but the highly unofficial drive by a Marine reservist to form an Afghan water polo team continues.

Starting in 2008, when he was working as a civilian contractor in Kabul, Warrant Officer Jeremy Piasecki has had the quixotic dream of introducing his beloved sport to Afghanistan.

Piasecki lives in Fallbrook in northern San Diego County. He was on the water polo team at Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach and later the team at Orange Coast College. He coached a high school team in Lake Elsinore and a swim team in Fallbrook.

He remains convinced that water polo is just the thing to boost Afghanistan's sense of national unity by rallying around a sports team.

There have been problems. A paucity of swimming pools. Lack of money for travel. Afghan unfamiliarity with the sport. And refusal in 2011 by the U.S. Embassy to grant visas to players to travel to the U.S. for training for fear the players would seek to defect.

Still, under the slogan of "Peace Through Sport," Piasecki has declined to quit.

Now working as a U.S. civilian government employee in Italy, Piasecki was set to arrive this weekend in Kabul to take up his role as head coach.

Two assistant coaches - Bill Richardson of Detroit and Scott Caruso of Chicago - are already there for a monthlong training regimen with the 40-plus would-be players.

Some of the players participated in December's 10th Asian Water Polo Club Championship in Tehran.

While traveling to the U.S. may not be possible unless the embassy changes its position on visas, Piasecki envisions the team soon traveling to Europe where water polo is growing in popularity.

Some of the players are in the Afghan army. Others are civilians. Many could barely swim when they signed up for the team.

"We don't have a lot of swimming opportunities in Afghanistan, only mountains, so swimming is unusual and water polo is very special because it's something not many people do," Ibrahim Rajabi, 18, a swimmer and artist, explained to The Times via email.

A water polo team, Rajabi said, will "bring people together with a shared goal."

Jawad Rezai, 31, the team captain, emailed that, "when you're so passionate about something it seems easy."

Piasecki agrees.

"This is a very exciting time for Afghan water polo," he said.

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