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

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid