News / Asia

American Football League Gets Foot in South Asia

Chief Executive Officer of the Elite Football League India Richard Whelan (C) interacts with Indian players during a press conference to announce the league, in Mumbai, India, August 5, 2011.Chief Executive Officer of the Elite Football League India Richard Whelan (C) interacts with Indian players during a press conference to announce the league, in Mumbai, India, August 5, 2011.
x
Chief Executive Officer of the Elite Football League India Richard Whelan (C) interacts with Indian players during a press conference to announce the league, in Mumbai, India, August 5, 2011.
Chief Executive Officer of the Elite Football League India Richard Whelan (C) interacts with Indian players during a press conference to announce the league, in Mumbai, India, August 5, 2011.
Mike Richman
American-style football is the ultimate American sport. The game is played elsewhere in the world, but no country comes anywhere close to the rabid fan following that exists in the United States.  

Can the sport take hold in South Asia? A new league with huge ambitions is giving it a try.

The Elite Football League of India - the EFLI - is the first professional American-style football league in a region where cricket, rugby and badminton dominate the sports landscape.

The EFLI just finished its first season of play, and league executives, coaches and players took it very seriously. They are excited about what the future holds.

“Actually, it means a lot to me," Pune Marathas cornerback Anthony George said of the EFLI. "It’s life to me right now. It’s my passion, and I just can’t imagine anything else apart from this.”

George's team made it to the first EFLI championship game, in which the Marathas defeated the Delhi Defenders, 6-0, at Sugathadasa Stadium in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.

American Coaches

“Touchdown” Tony Simmons is one of several American EFLI coaches who once played in the U.S. National Football League. He said there is a great work ethic on his Mumbai team.  

“I always see them training," Simmons said. "They’re doing stuff on the beach. They work really hard. Mentally, they go through plays.  They’re starting to get it more and more, and if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’ll get what they want.”

In the first season, the EFLI consisted of five teams in India, two in Pakistan and one in Sri Lanka. There was a seven-week regular season and two rounds of playoffs, and the field was 100 yards long, the same length as a U.S. football field. Many of the players are former rugby stars.

All of the games took place in Colombo. But EFLI senior executive Sunday Zeller said India likely will be the host country by the third season.

Zeller, an American brand marketing consultant, founded the league. Her vision for it came during a business trip to India in the mid-1990s.  She saw Indian society had elements she believed would support an American football league, including a huge population and many homes with televisions.

She also concluded that men needed an athletic outlet.

“India desperately needed a sport, a gladiator sport, like football," she said. "Their stars were the `Dancing with the Stars,’ the Bollywood stars at the time. Now it’s changing quite rapidly. But at the time when I was there, they were hardly Rambo, let’s just say that. It was a little feminine in every area. And the Indian males that I was seeing, that I knew in the business and I was seeing all over India, were so hungry to kind of break free of that. They asked questions, `Where can I work out, where do I get muscles, how do I gain a physique, what kind of food do I eat?'”

The League's Success

Zeller is optimistic the EFLI will succeed in South Asia's growing sports sector. Ten Sports, an Indian network, televises the games regionally. The league also has prominent investors, including former NFL stars and current TV analysts Michael Irvin, Mike Ditka, Kurt Warner and Ron Jaworski, and American actor Mark Wahlberg.

According to Zeller, the league may add teams next season in Bangladesh and China.

Akshay Sawai, sports and features editor for the Indian publication Open Magazine, however, is not sure the league will survive. He said only a tiny percentage of India's population is familiar with American football.

“It’s difficult for non-cricket sports to make inroads into India," he said. "India, I mean, it’s all skewed toward cricket, so it’s difficult for any other sport, let alone a sport that is not followed by that many Indians, to make an impact.”

Even so, Sawai said the league's deal with Ten Sports is a major bonus. He added that if the players view the EFLI as a career option with comfortable salaries, the league has a better chance of growing.

Many players in the league admire superstars from the National Football League. Quarterback Mayank Sharma of the Delhi Defenders, for one, likes New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He wears Brady's number 12.

“Tom Brady’s an amazing quarterback," Sharma said. "He plays for the New England Patriots, and I used to watch him before coming to the EFLI.”

Perhaps EFLI players will someday be idolized as well.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid