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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states 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.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid