It was all fun and euphoria at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra, where fans of the National Football League, the NFL, assembled to meet with football athletes, stars and legends of the game.
This is the first time the NFL has held an event in Africa as part of its goal to see the sport grow outside of the United States. According to NFL International’s chief operating officer, Damani Leech, the league hopes to increase the number of players from Africa and build its foreign fan base.
“The U.N. projects that in the next 30 years, half the world’s population growth is going to come from Africa," Leech said. "So, more and more young people in the continent, rapid urbanization, more and more people moving into the cities, becoming consumers of sports and entertainment. And as that grows and develops, we want the NFL to be in the position to grow and develop with it.”
The weeklong event was dubbed NFL Africa: The Touchdown and hosted 49 athletes from seven African countries. The athletes camped and trained with professional players from the NFL, including Ghana’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
The training camp is part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, IPPP, which seeks to identify foreign talent and integrate them into the league.
Nigeria’s Osi Umenyiora is a two-time NFL champion with the New York Giants and a leader behind the talent search in Africa. He said his goal is to make champions of African athletes.
“We have over 100 players of African descent in the NFL right now, and if you look at the trends, you’ll probably see that maybe 10 percent of the NFL labor force will be coming from Africa pretty soon," Umenyiora said. "And then also, all those guys wanted to do something back home, but nobody really knew what to do. So, what better thing to do than to come over here, come home, and give people an opportunity to be exactly where you’re at. And that is the whole premise behind everything we are doing.”
According to Elbert Allen, the head coach of the Ghana American Football Federation, this partnership with the NFL gives Ghanaian players an easier route to playing professional football.
Head coach Elbert Allen of the Ghana American Football Federation said, “Before now, we would just compete within ourselves. And so now, they have the opportunity to get exposure to make it to the highest level of football, which is the NFL.”
Another part of the project is to give children the opportunity to learn flag football. In a two-day event, the NFL team trained sports teachers and students from 10 schools in Accra about this less violent version of the sport.
Afia Law is the NFL's head of community and grassroots development. She said the program encourages Ghanaian kids to play the sport, both locally and abroad.
“From here, those schools are going to go away and deliver flag (football) and build towards a tournament in November," Law said. "So, we’ll hold our first ever Accra flag football championships, and within that a team from those schools will be selected to represent Ghana at the Pro Bowl in international division in 2023.”
Ghana’s vice president, Mahamadu Bawumia, lauded the initiative and pledged the government’s support to help the NFL to grow in Ghana.