The Emirates American Football League (EAFL) has come a long way since its inception in July 2012.
Participation figures at the time meant that just one team was playing in the league, compared to 2014 where more than 500 people are playing the sport across the age groups in the UAE and the EAFL’s senior league consists of five teams.
Across the junior and varsity levels of the sport, the EAFL now has twelve teams and is hoping to add more this season.
Not only has the league improved in terms of participation and ability, but the EAFL has also taken it upon itself to grow the game worldwide.
As one of the most organised leagues outside of the US and Europe, the EAFL has forged links with their Chinese and Brazilian counterparts in a bid to grow the game in those countries.
Outside of America it is incredibly hard for American Football to develop grassroots beyond expat communities.
Bar the UK, where mid-season games are now held at Wembley, the NFL seeks merchandising opportunities in Europe and Asia rather than looking to expand their league, and very rarely does it support international programmes directly.
This is something that the EAFL wants to change.
“We are acting as leaders across international football,” the EAFL’s director of youth football, Patrick Campos, told Sport360°.
“During a trip to China in May, we met with NFL officials who told us that the UAE were the first country to send a team out there to play football.
“We looked at the world outside of the NFL, college football in the US and more established leagues in Europe and we saw that there was no real organisation to football events. It was key for us to then establish links with those countries that the NFL has a presence or an interest and use those countries as launching pads to help promote the sport in other markets.
“It came down to China, where the NFL looks to enhance merchandise sales in the vast Asian market, and Brazil, which acts as more of a talent pool.”
This partnership has resulted in the EAFL establishing strong links with the two countries and the forming of a tri-nation competition, the first instalment of which is scheduled to be held in the UAE next year.
With plans in their formative stages, Campos is aware that the UAE is not an American Football stronghold but is determined to raise awareness of the sport in the country.
Fixtures between the EAFL All-Stars, the Falcons, and Germany’s Dusseldorf Panthers and youth football trips to prestigious USA competitions such as the Pop Warner International Super Bowl will only help to hasten that goal, however.
“The only reason the world looks at the UAE in terms of football is to see whether a rich Sheikh will fly them out to play an exhibitions here. That is not how we want football to be seen in the UAE,” added Campos.
“We want to develop both youth and senior football in the country and raise awareness of the setup in the UAE, alongside developing the game internationally.”