By Mayya Al-Ogaily
LAU Tribune staff
Sana Chahine, a communication arts student at LAU and a member of the women soccer team, was swamped. Having to cope with a demanding major and regular training is not easy, especially when you do not feel appreciated.
She went to see Sami Garabedian, the director of the LAU athletics department, and told him she would like to quit if she doesn’t get the athletic scholarship she deserves. To her surprise, Garabedian did not prevent her from renouncing her commitment to sports.
“If I am still playing, it’s only because I love the game,” she explained. “I am not getting anything in return.”
LAU is an active member of the Lebanese Federation of University Sports (FSUL), and its two campuses sponsor 18 varsity sports teams: handball and rugby (for men only) and basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, table tennis, swimming, Thai kick-boxing and taekwondo (for both men and women).
Rumors around campus recently alleged that LAU’s athletic department favors some sports teams over others.
The claims sounded like overstated complaints coming from pampered students. But, after further investigations, the Tribune found that the women soccer team at LAU is treated differently from the basketball team in specific and from other teams in general.
According to members of the women soccer team, the athletic department has failed to meet the demands of the players, although they snatched the first place in the league last year.
“LAU gives us very little or no importance at all, as athletes,” Yara Ghabris, a soccer team member, said. “During our games we have quite a few that support us, in comparison to other sports.”
Other team members like Chahine, Dima Farroukh and Fida Ghabbar agree with Ghabris.
The girls explained that no one from the LAU athletics department attended the final game of the Soccer League Championship last year. “No one, not even Mr. Sami Garabedian was there for us,” Ghabbar said. “All we got from them was a trophy a few months later.”
More importantly, girls in the women soccer team complained that none of them had an athletic scholarship in recognition of the team’s accomplishments.
“We do not get scholarships, despite the fact that we won the league last year, while some teams, like the basketball team, get scholarships and they don’t even achieve what our team has achieved,” Farroukh said. “We risk our studies and grades just to spend hours in training to get those results. We deserve some credit.”
Over five basketball team members have athletic scholarships.
Sami Garabedian, director of the athletics department, denied the team’s allegations and explained that athletic scholarships are only given to 10 incoming students per year, and they all happened to be on the basketball team.
But Chahine, an outstanding player on the team, said that she applied for a scholarship as a new student and still did not get it. Her cumulative GPA was 3.4 at the time. Today, it is 3.3.
Samir Obeid, head of the financial aid and scholarships office, insisted that all team members are offered scholarships if they are entitled to one, no matter what sports they play.
“If they’re responsible enough to balance between their studies and their duty towards the sports they’re playing, and if they have what it takes to be outstanding players, they would definitely get a scholarship,” he said.
Ghabbar complained that all soccer games take place outside campus for lack of space, which makes it hard for students to commute and reduces audience attendance considerably.
Garabedian explained that it’s the team members’ responsibility to invite their friends to their games and help crowd up the audience. He personally makes sure every game gets the publicity needed, he said.
“If they are complaining about the lack of publicity then they should know that unfortunately there’s apathy,” Garabedian added. “People are no longer interested in sports or in specific kinds of sports.”
On one particular game last year, the soccer and basketball teams played at the same time but a physiotherapist and an international judge were only provided for the basketball team. The soccer team got no such support.
“We had one physiotherapist at the time for all teams, and the reason why one team was chosen over the other is simply random,” Garabedian commented. “We also had two international judges that were sent to both games, but due to some coincidental events, one of them couldn’t make it to his game.”
Bob Abi Saab, a player on the basketball team, said that the accusations of soccer team members are “somehow true,” but added that the complaints were not only exclusive to soccer, as the “athletic department can do better.”
“We’re an alignment of great teams that form the athletic department of LAU and a little bit more effort from them would be appreciated,” Abi Saab said.
Garabedian however assured that LAU’s athletic department is doing its best to facilitate everything the team members have asked for, and assured that there is absolutely no differentiation between members of any team.
Meanwhile, and despite the many complaints, the women soccer team members continue to show a high spirit in every game and hope for more appreciation toward them.
“At the end of the day, we’re playing for LAU, which is an honor to each and every individual,” Farroukh said. “But at the same time, players do need motivation, and a scholarship would help.”