For decades now, sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, and even racing have been successful at branching outside of US borders and making a significant splash in international markets. But the one sport that has floundered in this regard is American football – until now.
Elite Football League India (EFLI) is America’s effort to showcase American Football and tag rugby in South Asia.
South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) is the platinum sponsor for the (EFLI) – Sri Lanka season 2015.
Ted Muttiah, CCO, SAGT, at the press conference to launch the sport of American football, said that American football and flag rugby are unique sports with all the ingredients to be successful in Sri Lanka. The game insists on the highest virtues of team work and respect for rules of the game in the best interest of the players. The sport is associated with agility, speed, explosive strength, resilience and adaptability.
“The EFLI came to Sri Lanka in 2011 for the first ever tournament held in 2012 in Sri Lanka. We had teams from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.”
Dilroy Fernando, Director, EFLI, speaking at the press conference at the CR and FC, thanked the 16 participating teams and the sponsor and the media. “The last time around when we did this tournament we had a tough time organizing it. This involves flag rugby which is totally different to the normal rugby as you can throw a forward pass and it is much easier than rugby. We had to restrict it to 16 teams this time as we had 22 entries and I must thank our sponsors SAGT for coming on board, and long term we are trying to introduce this to Jaffna,” he said.
Fernando added that ‘we have introduced the sport to Rajarata and Sabaragamuwa. The Jaffna boys are very interested in playing not only cricket but some other sports too.’
“Five or six schools were interested in playing earlier in Jaffna, but now over 10 are playing football in Jaffna. Not only are we trying to introduce the sport, we are also trying to bring them to Colombo. They didn’t want to come to Colombo earlier as they were scared but now they want to come. We will be having two leagues this year. One on the 27th and 28th at the CR and the other in October/ November this year,” Fernando said.
There will be 16 teams, namely University of Peradeniya (2 teams), Rajarata University (2 teams), Kotelawala Defence University (2 teams), Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka (2 teams), Jaffna Invitation, NSBM (2 teams), NIBM (2 teams), BMS (1 team), IIT (2 teams), and Auston ( 1 team). There will be 24 games on Day 1 and 20 on Day 2. We have four trophies on offer.
“We hope to have a South Asian tournament in Sri Lanka because the biggest rivalry in the world is not the US-Russia contest but India and Pakistan, and even in carrom this contest sells. India has over 300 universities. So the sport is growing in this region, and I’m sure one of these days it will compete with cricket as the sport of American Football is growing in this region. One challenge that we have is to keep the rugby players from changing over to playing football and giving up rugby. We have already sent one of our players to India for advanced training. The ministry has now said that we need more school children playing sports, as all they do is go for tuition. So we need to publicise this game. We provide all the equipment like helmets, padding etc. We also will give them contracts and they will become professional players.
Erwin Haaze, CEO of SAGT, the platinum sponsors, speaking to Sports Today, said that this is not the first sports sponsorship, since they sponsored wheelchair tennis before. “This game needs speed, confidence and adaptability. SAGT is pleased to partner with EFLI. We are confident that the game will provide opportunities for a new breed of Sri Lankan sports stars of the future. We are delighted also that Dilroy Fernando is taking the lead, as most of you will know he has a very strong reputation in sports administration and we are confident that he can bring the sport and spread it in Sri Lanka,” Haaze said.
Dilroy Fernando, explaining how it all started, said that he got a call from India asking him to further the cause of American Football in Sri Lanka. So I went to Bombay and met the hierarchy there and then got involved with them.
Answering a question from Sports Today , he observed that though the game started first in India, they do not run the game in Sri Lanka and we do that independently.
On the popularity of American Football, Fernando said that there are more shows on American Football rather than rugby.
“The sport of American Football has been shortlisted for the Olympics 2020 in Japan. The only problem is that this sport is not yet popular worldwide and that is why they are trying to popularize it in Asia. Also, we need Astro turfs to conduct matches. At the moment we have the Race Course, the CR and FC, Havelocks and the Kandy Sports Club. We are hoping to put up a stadium with US help.We are initially playing flag football but some of them are saying we want to play real football, tacking and the works.
Fernando also said that we have got some rugby referees for the tournament. “At least those referees will come in for less abuse than rugby refs. We are hoping to have a World Cup and also in flag football we are hoping to have a world cup.