The American University of Beirut’s new mascot is the phoenix, a legendary bird whose flames have yet to face the challenge of impeding water. With an eleven-to-six victory over USJ, AUB’s water polo varsity team has proven itself to be fire.
Founded in 2014 by students Joey Nassar and Amr Al Yafi, the team gained enough traction in 2015 to finally have the minimum number of members to play a proper game of water polo. Since then, members have been actively trying to recruit more students into a practicing sport that falls on the lower half of the popularity spectrum. The game’s current crowd and infrastructure, graduating players almost exclusively out of private leisure clubs like Rimal and Satellity, did not make the recruitment process any easier.
“The recruitment of new team members for the water polo varsity team was improved through greater media coverage of the sport inside the university, an increased participation of team members in international tournaments, and the support of national first league teams and athletes to organize universities tournament,” said team member George Khalil
Despite that, however, tryouts were held in the Fall semester of the 2015-2016 academic year. AUB’s varsity team has put in efforts to make the game more accessible to the public, especially to AUB students who have expressed interest in joining the team with no concrete background in water polo.
“Before entering AUB in Fall 2015, I had never heard of water polo, which was a very unpopular sport in Lebanon,” said team member Nicolas Bastolli. “But water polo has become a very big part of my life. Every year AUB students are getting more and more curious to know about this ‘exotic’ sport and are always very excited to come watch our games.”
The team’s ongoing campaign for turning the sport into a more popular one among AUB students goes beyond recruiting players, hoping to even build a fanbase. Their creative social media approach is interactive and uses real-time events to promote matches or events. It starts with a weird tweet about Toni Azevedo’s retirement announcement saying “Oh, he’ll be back,” followed by another affirming that Azevedo “didn’t last two days off the chlorine” after the athlete changed his mind about retiring. Then there’s the badly-edited (probably using Snapchat) picture of the La La Land Oscar mix up with “AUB-WaterPolo” written on the Best Picture card. That’s just how they do things.
“We’re putting in this effort on social media to make water polo seem open to everyone,” stated El Husseini. “Every member [of the team] is an admin on social media. I think we create more mature and active content that way.”
The water polo varsity team has seen success in the past three years, transforming what was once an empty pool into something that’s active in its attempts to improve.
“State of the art water polo equipment has been [statically] laying around Hostler since its launch,” said El Husseini. “Now, these resources are being used properly.”
Members also believe that AUB itself is providing more support to the team. This year, for instance, the Big Game saw its first water polo match iteration take place. A few weeks before that, the team went with the rest of the varsity teams to compete in Athens. Such firsts are clear encouragements for the current team members, as well as any potential players who might one day join.
Although they appreciate these improvements, the members are not settling for them and are building more ideas to grow further. As it stands, there are talks of opening the AUB Beach for the water polo players to train during the summer semester, when the pool is made off limits to them. Members like El Husseini and George Farajallah are also thinking about founding an alumni water polo team to still be able to play for AUB when they graduate.
Their most important effort, at the moment, is working towards founding a women’s water polo team for AUB. According to the members Outlook interviewed, there are many female students, including swimming athletes, who have expressed interest in playing water polo for the university.