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Apodaca: Afghanistan water polo dreams delayed, not defeated

January 07, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Turning a dream into reality is seldom a smooth course. That's what members of the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team are learning in their quixotic quest to come to the United States to train and prepare for their unlikely bid to compete in the Olympics.

When I wrote about the team last fall, plans were underway for a visit to Southern California so players could learn from the deep reservoir of water polo talent in the region. Their itinerary was to include a lengthy stopover in Newport Beach, where they planned to practice at the Corona del Mar High School pool, and learn from local players and coaches.

The trip was also viewed as a means of outreach and bridge building between two nations linked by war but divided by deep cultural differences.

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The team, the brainchild of former CdM High and Orange Coast College student Jeremy Piasecki, a Marine reservist, had originally hoped to travel to the U.S. early last month. Lacking the necessary approvals, the visit was pushed back to late December.

But about a week before the new travel date, the plan fell apart when the consulate officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul denied the visa requests by the 10 male athletes because of concerns that the players wouldn't return to Afghanistan after the visas expired.

A visa for the lone female water polo player was approved, and she is expected to visit the Unites States soon to begin training with college teams, after which she'll return home and try to jump start a national women's team.

The consulate's decision was a blow to the team, and to its many American supporters, both civilian and military, who have volunteered their time and effort to seeing this against-the-odds story through to a happy conclusion.

For now, the team's backers are taking a sanguine approach, stating in a press release that the setback "is just one more obstruction that this program must navigate around." They're adopting a longer and perhaps more realistic view, and are working on a new plan to visit another country in September in order to establish a track record of reliability that might satisfy the U.S. consulate's concerns.

They also announced last week that they'd be sending coaches from the United States to Afghanistan this spring and summer to lend their expertise, and perhaps help launch another team.

I wouldn't bet against them. From the start, this little team-that-could has defied expectations.

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