Winter 2007 Vol. V, No. 2
In Our History
Pre-Ping Pong: Abdel Satar Traboulsi Kicks Off Sports at AUB and in Lebanon
Aleksandra Majstorac Kobiljski
In fall 1929, a delegation of 22 athletes from the Egyptian
University visited Beirut for a week of athletic contests in football,
basketball, track and field, and tennis. The following spring, ten AUB
athletes visited Cairo for a similar series of events. These visits, initiated
by Abdel Satar Traboulsi and officially sponsored by the University, were
not only the "talk of the campus." They also provided a significant
impetus for the development of sports at AUB. These events would be fairly
unremarkable today when AUB sport teams compete international and locally
and AUB students are often seen running along the Corniche. But back then,
this sports exchange was noteworthy for several reasons: it took place
before commercial air travel and it was an indication that in just two
years Director of Athletics Traboulsi had strengthened AUB teams to the
point that they were able to compete successfully against teams from Cyprus
and Egypt. The increasing popularity of sports at AUB played an important
role in the development of a culture of physical education in Lebanon.
women students were allowed to use President Dodge's tennis court on Fridays,
a privilege that earned them the envy of male students. In 1939, the AUB
Tennis Club had to turn away members because the courts were regularly overbooked.
That same year the Lebanese Championship was formally organized and held
at AUB. Nadim Majdalani became the Lebanese Tennis Champion, a position
he would hold for a number of years to follow.
In 1935, the new swimming facilities on the rocks below the campus proved to be a great success. Many students participated in various water sports, from swimming and free jumps to water polo. Women students had access to both the faculty and student beaches. (They were later merged in the 1940s.) Traboulsi also introduced training for lifeguards, which continued for decades. In 1952 the first woman student became a lifeguard.
During the 1940s, Traboulsi promoted a wide range of sports and introduced interested students to a number of new sports, such as ping-pong, archery, badminton, hockey, bodybuilding, and skiing. His success at AUB contributed to his reputation off campus and he became known as the consummate physical education professional. A commentary on the state of sports in Lebanon published in Revue du Liban in December 1946, says it quite well: Sport is much neglected in Beirut, except at the American University, and this is thanks to the excellent coach - Abdel Satar Traboulsi. His technique merits that we entrust him with the physical education of the entire Lebanese youth.
Traboulsi's tireless efforts to promote competitive and recreational sports on campus started bearing fruit. AUB alumni such as Michel and Ernest Farah, Joe and Maurice Tabet, and Labib and Nadim Majdalani dominated the tennis scene. These were men whose appreciation and passion for sports was nurtured by Traboulsi in the 1930s. They had all been members of varsity teams during their years at AUB. The Lebanese Tennis Championships continued to be hosted at AUB throughout the 1940s. At the same time, the AUB varsity teams were regularly beating other local and international teams. (AUBites are particularly proud of their victory over the Cyprus football championship team in 1946.) When the Lebanese Olympic Committee was founded in 1947, it was in part the result of Traboulsis two decades of passion and commitment.
Today, the Athletics Department is an important part of student life at AUB and one of the most active members of the Universities Sports Federation of Lebanon (FSUL), as well as many other local and international clubs and sports bodies. Traboulsi was often heard to say to AUB students, "it is not important to win, but to take part." Traboulsi's vision of sports at AUB lives on, as the Athletics Department provides all students, regardless of their ability or previous experience, the ability to get involved in sports. In spring 2007, the opportunities for AUB student athletes will be further enhanced when the Charles W. Hostler Student Centera 93,000squarefoot hub for sports and student activitiesopens its doors.